Home | Up one level | Previous | Next

Physics and Philosophy

Chapter Four
from
Metaphysics Reclaimed
How Religion and Science Can Be Partners

Copyright © 2009, Joseph A. Schrock

_____

Reductionism Fails in Physics

      This chapter is devoted to important issues surrounding the philosophy of physics, and the views expressed will emphasize the impact of the monumental revolution that quantum mechanics introduced into physics. Physics is a very old science (in the general sense), and one may be inclined to say that it began with Aristotle. However, anything resembling modern physics would have to be dated to the time when Galileo was introducing some monumentally significant ideas regarding acceleration, and the application of mathematics to the accurate description of accelerating bodies. Galileo placed great emphasis upon measurement in his contributions to physics. And it is precisely in the fact that science has emphasized exact measurement of various phenomena, that modern science was born. Of course, mathematics plays a crucial role in those measurements, and much of science is highly mathematical in its theories, formulas, and descriptions.
      Various revolutions occurred in physics over the past few centuries, including the monumental achievements of Newton and, later on, Einstein. But the issues to be focused upon here are those where physics borders on philosophy. And the revolution in physics which has had the very greatest of all philosophical impacts, of any revolution in physics, is the quantum revolution. This is the discovery that the smallest of "physical" entities ("particles") behave in manners that are in serious conflict with our commonsensical concepts of the nature of "material" objects, as we encounter them in daily life. That is, for us, common sense seems to tell us that objects we see and touch occupy a specific amount of space, are located at very definite positions in space, possess a definite rate of relative motion (if they happen to be seen as in motion), and can be at only one exact place at any given time. Furthermore, our common sense seems to inform us that these "material" objects we encounter, are absolutely real (not merely potentially real), regardless of whether or not they are being observed. However, with the advent of quantum physics, all of those seemingly undeniable attributes of "matter" have become extremely problematic.
      Let us introduce a highly important concept of modern science and in the philosophy of science: that which is labeled reductionism. Reductionism seems to have served science rather well for most of the time since the scientific method was so powerfully introduced (a few centuries ago). That is, it seems that we can dissect objects, analyze their components, specify their attributes, and thereby learn how they work. For example, we have been able to break down objects of matter into molecules, those molecules into their constituent atoms, those atoms into electrons, protons, and neutrons, and then even subdivide some of those subatomic particles into more minute "elementary" particles. And with biology, scientists have learned a tremendous amount concerning how organisms work, by dissecting them, extracting organs, breaking down the physiology of those organs into cells, etc. Yet, no biologist has ever been able to determine exactly what constitutes life. Indeed, no remotely unanimous definition for life has been achieved by scientists. And, even though living organisms can be shown to depend upon the functioning of specific organs for life, there is a holism in life that transcends any strictly reductionistic methods. There is something about a living organism that boggles the efforts of scientists to reduce those organisms down to merely their constituent cells, molecules, atoms, and subatomic particles. This is the awesome mystery of life! And, notwithstanding the monumental advances of modern science, any genuine comprehension of what life is utterly eludes the grasp of science. Even in the face of modern, "enlightened" science, the mystery of life remains an enigma of such proportions, as to defy the most powerful tools at the disposal of science, so far as the deciphering of that mystery is concerned. Therefore, any philosophy of reductionism, with regard to any satisfactory explanation of life, is left entirely inadequate.

Top

      Even though life is seen to escape the grasp of reductionistic science and philosophy, can we not expect that inorganic matter can be absolutely reduced to its ultimate constituents (with totally successful reductionism)? Actually, contrary to common sense, modern quantum physics tells us that such a strict reductionism fails, even in pure physics. The fact of the matter is that when physicists begin to manipulate subatomic "particles", they encounter the dilemma of being restricted to discussing mere probabilities. That is, a given entity possesses a certain probability of existing within a specified region of space, and it can never be determined exactly where that entity is located, until a measurement is made. And when such a measurement is made to test for the exact location of the entity, then all information about the velocity and momentum of the entity are totally lost. In short, that entity ("particle") behaves in a ghostly fashion -- always refusing to be pinned down to any exact location, alongwith an exact speed, etc. That is, non-locality seems to inhere in the very nature of subatomic entities, which means that, according to some physicists, it is not a meaningful question to ask where a given entity is located, or what its momentum is, until an observation has been made to test for a specific attribute of that entity. In other words, it does seem, according to quantum mechanics, that subatomic particles fail to conform to our common sense requirement that those particles possess exact positions in space at every instant of time. According to quantum physics, such particles possess only potential for being found in a specific location, and that until a measurement (or observation) is made, it is not even meaningful to ask: exactly what is the locationof a specific particle? This utterly defies common sense, and this is one reason why quantum mechanics has produced such monumental conundrums in any efforts to device a coherent philosophy of physics. As a matter of fact, these dilemmas posed by quantum physics, have devastated our commonsensical view of "physical reality.? One may even come to propose that the Buddhist teaching that "material" reality possesses no inherent existence, has some confirmation in modern physics. If it is the case that subatomic particles possess no inherent attributes (such as position, velocity, mass, etc.), until they are measured, and that they possess only potentialities and probabilities for possessing certain attributes, then we are faced with an awesome dilemma in seeking any kind of coherent philosophy of "matter.? Admittedly, not all physicists would entirely concur with these interpretations of the nature of "matter.? In fact, some prominent physicists go so far as to suggest that there are infinitely many universes ("parallel" universes), in their desperate efforts to render quantum physics consistent, and compatible with any genuine realism in physics. But this is a huge philosophical price to pay for explaining (attempting to explain) how nature operates. Regardless of what specific approach one takes to modern quantum physics, it is the case that some truly revolutionary ideas are forced upon us by this upset to common sense.
      Not only is non-locality implied by quantum physics, but the very idea of an objectively existing, external reality, is left hanging in serious doubt. Are quantum particles objectively real? If they are, why do they not possess exact positions in space at all times? Why do they not possess exact momentums at every instant of time? Some physicists will argue that those particles do possess exact positions and other exact attributes at every instant of time. However, any efforts to encapsulate such a view into experimental physics require some awesome metaphysical baggage, or then simply fail to offer any coherent account of such physics. The upshot of all this seems to be that "material reality" is a phenomenon that is so inherently mysterious that we simply cannot bring our commonsensical worldview into harmony with "true reality.? Could it, then, be that just maybe "physical reality" is not exactly physical (in the ordinary sense of the term "physical")? Could it just be that "material reality" is, in some important sense, a "mental" reality? After all, modern physics leaves us with hugely important, unanswered questions about the very structure and nature of the "material" world. It is quite understandable that many physicists will just ignore these dilemmas, and focus on unraveling some additional aspect of the "material" world, and just leave the metaphysical reasoning to the philosophers. However, for those among us who seek to really understand our universe, we cannot afford to let the mysteries of quantum physics be mere curiosities, taken for granted. These mysteries (inherent in quantum physics) beg for explanation, and no philosophy of physics (or any philosophy of science, in general) can claim to be adequate, if it does not at least reckon with the awesome conundrums presented by these mysteries.
      It is important to emphasize here that, even in the most reductionistic of all the sciences, reductionism (and its associated materialism) simply fails of adequate exposition of the true nature of our universe. Quantum physics shows us that "material particles" cannot be reduced to mere point-particles, with exact positions in space, while also possessing exact momenta, and whose ultimate natures can be empirically shown to exist independently of any observation. Actually, the efforts to make such a worldview compatible with experiment, encounter monumental metaphysical difficulties. Therefore, we are faced with a dilemma in any effort to espouse a truly rational and coherent philosophy of physics. If one were to argue that "material reality" has no objective existence whatsoever, then it seems that one would end up with complete solipsism. This is a route that few would find worthy of being traversed, in one's efforts at devising a coherent philosophy. Yet, we are forced to reckon with grave doubts about the exact nature of an objectively existing reality. In view of these dilemmas, some humility about any proposed ontology is in order. Reality is simply too complex and mysterious for us to completely master. While science (including reductionism) has proved to be an awesomely powerful tool in the service of acquiring human understanding, and in manipulating our world, we are, nevertheless, confronted with the humbling fact that our comprehension of reality (even the "material" world, and how much more so the mental and spiritual worlds) is quite finite, and we succumb to the limits of our cognitive powers. Reality is too grand and too glorious for our puny intellects to master. Would we not, then, be very wise to have the humility to turn our gaze toward the glorious Divine Realm (the very progenitor of our world, as well as our very intellects), and at the very least entertain the thought that there may be an Infinite Mind underlying the profound mysteries that boggle our (oftentimes) vaunted powers of understanding? We may allow our pride to lead us to think that our human intellects represent the epitome of intellectual powers in our vast universe. However, there exists (for those who are fortunate enough to discover this wonderful fact) a glorious, wonderful, majestic, and infinite Divine Intellect, without whose love we puny humans become little more than shells (rather than the beautiful spiritual beings we long to be).
      In brief, reductionism has powerful methods for aiding us in tackling our world, but (even in physics) its sphere of power founders, whenever a really meaningful and adequate philosophy of "material" reality is sought. Quantum physics ought to shake to the very foundations our faith in materialistic reductionism, because it shows that reductionism leads to insurmountable conundrums. And a worldview more in line with some kind of holism needs to be developed, in light of apparent non-locality, and the awesomely mysterious nature of any description of "material" entities. Any philosophy of physics which fails to incorporate into its scheme the world-shattering reverberations inherent in quantum physics falls far short of genuine success.

Top

Scientific Materialism is Inadequate as a Philosophy

      There is a philosophical disposition that tends to pervade most of modern science, and the philosophy of science. This is what may be labeled the philosophy of scientific materialism. It is extremely influential, and part of the reason for that may be that many scientists and nonscientists (alike) tend to think that science (with its numerous great successes) validates this philosophy. It can be shown that this viewpoint is highly fallacious, and is seriously in conflict with any overarching, realistic view of human reality, as we encounter it.
      First, let us define "scientific materialism", as it will be used here. According to the description offered here, scientific materialism is that philosophy (note that it is a philosophy, not science) which espouses the belief that all genuine reality is, in fact, a material reality. Now, it is easy to see why this philosophy could evolve from a preoccupation with the powers of science, because science (as we usually understand the term) is restricted to measuring, testing, manipulating, and theorizing about that which is tangible (or at the very least, capable of being detected by equipment that is tangible), and therefore comes under the rubric of the "material.? Thus, if one wants to aver that only what science can detect is actually real (a view subscribed to by Bertrand Russell), then one automatically subscribes to the philosophy of scientific materialism. Notwithstanding the fact that science is an awesomely powerful tool in the manipulation of the "physical" world, it does far from logically follow that only what science can measure or manipulate, is then truly real. It is to be admitted that most of what we can observe in our universe, seems to conform to descriptions of "material reality.? Actually, how can we observe anything which does not impact upon one or more of our five senses? And, if something does impact upon one of those five senses, then does it not (quite naturally) belong in the category of the "material"? From this perspective, it does seem that this philosophy of scientific materialism may be justified. However, we must, if we are to do justice to the realities we encounter, reckon with the fact that we are conscious beings.
      Here is where scientific materialism encounters a phenomenon that renders it an incoherent philosophy. Actually, we are aware of the "material" only through means of our consciousness. Which, then, is more real --consciousness (which is all we can experience), or an inferred "material reality" (supposedly independent of our consciousness)? As a matter of fact, we cannot even prove that the external world has any objective existence at all. All we experience (directly) are our mental states, which seem to respond to stimuli that we infer to exist "out there", independently of our consciousness. We naturally tend to infer from the regularity and relative reliability of the mental experiences we have, in "observing" the external world, that there is really an objectively existing world there. Nevertheless, we are always confronted with the undeniable fact that our consciousness is all we can ever experience. Maybe there are objects existing externally to our consciousness (as we infer to be the case), and that our consciousness responds to those objects. However, the inevitable fact of the matter is that the conscious experience is all we have available to us. The conscious experience is direct (given), and it cannot be denied. Is it not logical, then, to offer greater importance (even primacy) to our consciousness, than we do to some supposed (merely inferred) external world? Consciousness, we cannot doubt, but some inferred external reality, we can rationally doubt -- although such doubt may prove rather unworkable, in practice.
      Now, it is to be conceded that it seems rather understandable that we living creatures may well be inclined to come to ascribe to the "external world" an objective (true) reality, whereas our consciousness is deemed to have more problematic existence. The reason for this is apparent. After all, much of the external world seems to be so reliable, relatively unchanging, steady, solid, and repeatedly available for observation. But our consciousness seems to be fleeting, ephemeral, unreliable, inconsistent, and highly susceptible to being impacted by external objects. Does not consciousness seem to be merely some kind of receptor, which is sensitive to the phenomena of the "real world" (out there)? After all, external objects seem to powerfully impact upon consciousness, but consciousness seems utterly impotent to act directly upon external objects. Does not this seem to suggest that the external world is real, and the conscious realm is merely a passive receptor, by means of which reality is (somehow, utterly mysteriously) perceived? This is exactly the view held by many modern scientists and philosophers, and it is the very crux of scientific materialism. One may seek to espouse this worldview by arguing that there is no objective evidence that consciousness has any genuine reality. It has to be conceded that consciousness is not amenable to tangible manipulation, the way "material" objects are. Consciousness is something that is quite private (for the most part), and, barring telepathic communication (direct mind to mind communication), another person's consciousness is unavailable for examination. Another person's consciousness is (generally) off limits for objective analysis. Thus, we can even question whether or not the other person is, in fact, even conscious. We cannot question (in any coherent fashion) our own consciousness, whenever we are experiencing any awareness. Thus, consciousness becomes a private matter. We can discuss with other people the objects and phenomena of the external world, and usually agree very greatly about the nature of those inferred realities. But, in general, the only way we can discuss another person's consciousness, is when that person informs us about his/her thoughts, emotions, observations, etc. In view of this, it is easy to see why consciousness can come to be regarded as less than truly real.
      But in defense of an argument in favor of the primacy of consciousness, it can be said that we still can only infer the existence of external objects, but we can know with certitude that we are in possession of conscious experiences (a conscious reality). Therefore, scientific materialism, which seeks the elimination of consciousness as a genuine reality (worth considering as a vital aspect of one's ontology), is shown to be seriously problematic. Because, apart from consciousness, we do not know that there even is any reality whatsoever (of any kind, external or internal). It becomes nonsensical to even discuss "living" in a world in which one had no consciousness at all. There would be no knowledge whatsoever, no pain, no pleasure, no thinking, no hopes, no goals, nor any meaning whatever to such a life. That would be the consequence of "living" in a world devoid of consciousness. In view of his, does it not seem highly irrational to callously discard (as being, actually, nonexistent) the very essence of our meaningful reality -- our personal consciousness? To eliminate consciousness from one's ontology (one's very belief in that which has existence), is to eliminate from one's worldview the only power by which one is even capable of possessing any worldview whatsoever. This does seem rather backward, even somewhat asinine. But that is exactly what scientific materialism seeks to purport. And this highly dubious and seriously problematic philosophy of the nature of consciousness tends to dominate much of modern scientific and philosophical thought.
      Can it ever be proved that either consciousness is -- as the materialists say -- merely a passive epiphenomenon, or that, on the other hand, it possesses genuine efficacy, and that it has an awesomely vital place in any adequate and valid ontology? The matter of proof in such issues is one that encounters enormous difficulties. It does seem that it would require a superhuman power to prove that consciousness has no efficacy whatsoever, and that it is a merely passive by-product of complex brain functions -- if, indeed, this were the case. But, conversely, to prove that consciousness is a genuine force in objective reality, and that its nature possesses a reality that transcends the reality of the "material", external world, would probably require powers beyond what human science, or human logic could muster -- if, indeed, this is the truth of the matter. Therefore, we are confronted with dubious capacities for either proving or disproving the validity of scientific materialism. However, the mere fact that we fall short of a capacity to provide proof, does not mean that there cannot be highly rational justifications for having strong opinions on this issue -- based upon purely logical thinking relative to the evidence available.
      Now, an important point to be made is that of whether or not there exists any spiritual realm of any sort whatsoever. For those people who are privileged to encounter (with complete certitude that they have done so) a glorious Divine Reality (a consciousness that far excels any human consciousness), the question of whether or not a nonmaterial reality of any sort at all exists, is clearly answered in the affirmative. For these blessed people, there can be no doubts that mind (consciousness) has existence independent of any material reality. If a Divine Consciousness permeates all the knowable realities we encounter, and if this Consciousness exists prior to, and independent of, the need for any material realm, then it follows quite logically that there is justification for regarding human consciousness as more fundamental than the "material" realm we encounter. In this case, it is also highly rational to hope for the perpetual and permanent existence of our human consciousness, such that the death of the "material" body fails to extinguish the precious conscious essence of our "soul" or "mind.?
      One more vital point to be mentioned regarding scientific materialism is the issue of human telepathic powers. If it can be shown that some humans (and thereby inferring that, likely, all humans) possess the powers of mind to communicate (to some degree) directly from one mind to another, without the intervention of any of the five senses, then this will essentially prove that human consciousness involves some powers (some essence) that transcend mere existence within the "physical" brain. This would not, however, provide proof that consciousness can exist without a functioning brain. But it would prove (beyond question) that consciousness involves an "energy" that flows from person to person, and that this consciousness is something more than mere complex neuronal functions within the "physical" brain. This is not a trivial point, because (at least, for some people) evidence that telepathic powers can exist in humans is so great that doubt is simply eliminated. It cannot be questioned (at this juncture) that science has utterly failed to provide any explanation whatsoever for how consciousness develops, what consciousness is, or how consciousness is even possible. If telepathic powers are found to definitely exist among humans, then science will have yet further explaining to do, if it seeks to offer any meaningful and coherent explanation at all for what human consciousness (human mind) really is.
      In short, the evidence available (using rigorous logic) militates powerfully against the viability, rationality, and efficacy of any sort of philosophy which seeks to eliminate from the domain of reality all conscious powers -- which is exactly what scientific materialism seeks to do. Therefore, the rational thinker is faced with the awesomely vital question of what consciousness really is, and to seek to desiccate the viability of human consciousness, to the point of seeking its eradication from the philosophy of reality, is unworthy of one who honestly and intelligently seeks the genuine truth of what reality is. Scientific materialism is seriously vitiated and compromised by the undeniable fact of our personal consciousness -- the only means we have of knowing any reality whatever.

Top

Human and Animal Consciousness Provides an Inexplicable Conundrum for any Materialist Philosophy of Reality

      The fact of the existence of consciousness is something of monumental fascination for many of us. What is consciousness? How can it arise out of pure (seemingly unconscious) matter? Does consciousness possess some power over matter, or is it merely a passive "observer" of the actions and behaviors of matter? Is consciousness possible apart from the complex functions of matter? Could it be deemed reasonable to suppose that consciousness is primal (more fundamental than matter)? These are some of the questions that may confront one who seeks to make sense of a phenomenon that we believe all humans universally share -- our powerfully conscious experiences.
      A philosophy of scientific materialism seeks to eliminate consciousness from the realm of the objectively real entities of our world. That is, consciousness, according to this philosophy, is rendered as less than an aspect of a valid ontology. Yet, this materialist view fails to offer any account whatever of why consciousness should exist, or how it is even possible that mind (conscious powers) can function in a "material" world of "mindless" entities and forces. The view to be espoused here is that consciousness is a phenomenon (a highly efficacious power) that is more primary than matter, and that consciousness (mind) is that infinitely creative and energetic force through which matter is able to become manifest. This is the exact opposite approach from the one taken by the majority of modern scientists and philosophers who undertake any study of consciousness. The latter approach seeks to argue that consciousness is an utterly inexplicable (but totally inefficacious and passive) function of certain highly complex interactions between particles of mass-energy. That is, consciousness is regarded as a mere by-product of certain extraordinarily complex functions of matter (merely a passive epiphenomenon). It needs to be acknowledged that this view is one that it is difficult to prove false, either by any empirical means, or by sheer logical force. One reason for this difficulty is the fact that, in all cases where we encounter evidence of conscious behaviors of any sort, matter is always present. Furthermore, it seems, from our observations, that in order for consciousness to exist, matter must be present, and that matter must function according to highly restricted sorts of activities. That is, we know of no cases (in our "physical" world) where consciousness exists, except in "material" beings that possess that force we call life. Therefore, it is understandable that we come to regard consciousness as some essence that accompanies highly specified behaviors of living beings (beings composed of matter). As a matter of fact, this materialist tendency to devalue consciousness as passive, inefficacious, and merely a helpless by-product of matter's functions, seems nearly inevitable from the vantage point of the utter rejection of any divine realm whatever. If we postulate that the universe started out from mindless (utterly unconscious) forces within mass-energy, and that mind had no existence in any realm anywhere, until certain highly complex living organisms evolved into a sufficiently complex form to allow for consciousness to (utterly mysteriously) erupt from matter, then it does seem to rather logically follow that this essence of consciousness is no more than some inexplicable function of complex "material" entities. If the universe began (suppose, at the advent of the Big Bang) in a condition such that no mind, no consciousness, nor anything reminiscent of spirit of any sort, existed, then it seems perfectly reasonable to hypothesize that consciousness (when it does make its appearance) is far from primal, and is (at best) merely secondary to matter. Yes, in light of a philosophy which regards the universe as a mere chance occurrence (an inexplicable accident), whose eruption into being was without cause, without design, and without being the work of any conscious force or power of any sort, it is entirely rational to seek to offer, as any possible explanation for conscious existence, the view that consciousness is an insignificant and accidental by-product of the manner in which the universe evolved (mindlessly, purposelessly, and meaninglessly). Such an "explanation" does not offer any real understanding whatsoever of how consciousness could have evolved, how matter can produce consciousness (if, indeed, consciousness were a mere product of matter), or offer any inkling of why consciousness (the power to observe, reason, feel, and appreciate value), such as we humans experience it, should ever have manifested itself in a universe whose ultimate nature arises from utter mindlessness. Nevertheless, if one is determined to rule out of one's ontology the possibility for Divine Reality, for any Source of our universe whose nature is ultimately conscious, purposeful, and meaningful, then one is left with about the greatest conceivable enigma -- the profound mystery of our powerful conscious feelings and thoughts.
      Is it not every whit as rational (indeed, more rational) to regard our "material" universe to have come into being through intelligent, purposeful, and willful design (through a highly conscious Power), as opposed to the paradoxical dilemma involved in seeking an explanation for our consciousness, by virtue of some supposition that consciousness (somehow, without meaning or purpose) spontaneously arises from complex "material" functions? The crux of the matter is that we are conscious, and any effort to make sense of our consciousness, through seeking a source which is totally lacking in consciousness, provides us with a conundrum of hugely paradoxical proportions. Actually, our conscious experiences are all we have, when it comes to applying reason to our sensations. We cannot ever even prove that a world independent of our consciousness has any genuine existence. We certainly infer that there is an external world, and this supposition seems to provide the only effective means for us to deal with our barrage of sensations. Yet, it does seem as if we are guilty of substantial irrationality, if we maneuver ourselves into reasoning that our consciousness does not even have any existence, but that only the (inferred) objects of our sensations possess any existence. For each of us, our conscious experiences are monumentally real -- the only reality of which we can even speak. Why should we, then, seek to denigrate this conscious force, and seek to eliminate it from the realm of true reality? Is that intelligent? We may seek to find some means of explaining our conscious experiences as being nothing more efficacious than a passive receptor for external stimuli. But whence is this "receptor"? Why is there this conscious force? Would not an unconscious material universe be more appropriate (more in line with our expectations), if the source of the universe is devoid of mind or consciousness? But we are forced to reckon with our consciousness, and any attempts to devalue it, desiccate it, or to render it nonexistent, are unworthy of one who appreciates the glorious powers inherent in consciousness.
      It needs to be understood that "eliminative materialism" (the efforts to eliminate the ontological status of consciousness) is an approach to reality that deprives our worldview of the appreciation for the wondrousness, glory, majesty, beauty, and efficacy inherent in conscious powers, and does an horrendous injustice to the truth of how our consciousness came to be -- by the fantastically glorious, creative, energetic, and eternally potent Divine Realm (an infinite consciousness, who is the progenitor of all conscious entities). This materialist philosophy casts a pall over our worldview, and it engenders a self-concept that is horribly afflicted with barrenness, aridity, valuelessness, meaninglessness, and the very seeds of hopelessness and despair. This is the exact antithesis of the wonder, excitement, joy, beauty, appreciation for divine harmony, and the hope for eternally efficacious conscious living, which can arise from a vision of reality that gives proper credence to the awesome powers and efficacy of consciousness, and regards all consciousness as arising from infinite, vibrant, majestic, and eternally potent Supreme Consciousness.
      In view of all this, it is entirely reasonable, consistent with all discoverable reality, and the most comprehensive explanation for consciousness, for one to conclude that consciousness is primal (not secondary), that consciousness is the ultimate source of what we regard as matter, and that consciousness is more efficacious than matter. This view, it must be conceded, is in direct opposition to the prevailing tendency among modern scientists and many philosophers, which regards the "material" realities as being primal (indeed, the only true realities), and seeks to reduce any significance of consciousness to a shadowy, inert, passive, and utterly ineffectual epiphenomenon. For the sake of the material, social, psychological, and spiritual well-being of our human world, it is highly to be desired that the scourge of empty, valueless, anti-spiritual, amoral, sensuality-seeking, and despair-inducing effects which result from the desecration of the primal nature of consciousness (and spirituality), be vitiated and neutralized by a proper regard for the wondrous nature of consciousness, and the fact that its nature has eternal efficacy in Divine Consciousness.

Top

There is an Utter Dearth of Spirituality in Scientific Materialism

      The issue to now be addressed revolves around the problems inherent in scientific materialism. It is extremely important to appreciate the monumental values that the scientific method bestows upon human society. The technological spin-offs from scientific discovery are completely beyond denial. While technology can certainly be (and very often is) abused, the benefits that accrue from scientifically engendered technology are worthy of some genuine celebration. Furthermore, the scientific method empowers many people (those who devote their lives largely to scientific discovery) to find extremely great joy through their ongoing efforts to unravel the profound mysteries of our universe, and to decipher those puzzles which inhere in the monumental complexity of the natural world. Also, the wonderful discoveries made by those somewhat rare people, who love the challenge of solving the problems nature hands us (those who devote much effort to scientific discovery), provide nonscientists with precious and enthralling insights into how our glorious universe functions (at least, to that degree to which human intellect has managed to unravel those awesome conundrums of nature). Thus, science is an enterprise worthy of some degree of awe, and can properly be held in rather high esteem. The blessings that accrue from the scientific method ought to never be disdained or devalued. Humanly devised scientific methods are truly a mark of the potential genius of the human intellect, and those wonderful methods offer fantastic powers to manipulate the forces of nature.
      Now, with all this approbation of science, and the glowing endorsement of this method of breaking open the mysteries and secrets inherent in nature, there must be said something concerning the side effects of the wonderful empowerment offered through the scientific method. First of all, it needs to be emphasized that the powers inherent in the scientific method can be applied for profound evil, as well as for great good. That is, horrendous weapons of destruction can be devised (and have been devised) by means of science. Furthermore, the powers over natural forces granted by science are capable of being applied in such ways as to horribly pollute our earth, devastate aspects of natural habitats, and engender frightening imbalances in the delicate ecosystems of our wonderful planet. In view of this fact alone, the potential does exist to abuse science in such profound ways that even the very survival of our species may be in some doubt (in the long-term). And we have already been guilty of eradicating numerous species of life on our earth, and further species extinctions are continuing at a truly alarming rate. Thus, we can clearly see that the scientific method (in the hands of humanity) has not proved to be, by any remote means, exclusively positive. Rather, as seems to be the case with nearly all powers, the powers inherent in science are susceptible to horrendous abuse and misapplication.
      Yet, an issue of wider concern, and of potentially even more devastating consequences, is the fact that, with the introduction of the scientific method, and the subsequent proliferation of mass technology, has evolved a concomitant proclivity for us humans to view the world (including life, and even human consciousness) as being of a merely material nature. This worldview, then, can be labeled "scientific materialism.? It involves a tendency to worship the scientific method and to idolize the fascinating gadgetry and attendant luxuries that can accrue from the efficient application of this powerful means of manipulating nature. Even more invidious and insidious is that rather diabolical (and potentially dangerous) philosophy, which has tended to derive from a scientific worldview, namely, one which avers that there is no true reality, apart from the "material" realities. It does need to be recognized that such a de-spiritualizing and dehumanizing philosophy, does not logically follow from the efficacy, power, and propriety of the scientific method. That is to say, the mere fact that the "material" world is highly amenable to effective manipulation through the powers inherent in mathematical science, does not offer any indication, hint, or suggestion that there is no objective reality, apart from the "physical" entities, those aspects of reality which are so highly susceptible to effective manipulation by the rigorous application of mathematical sciences. To argue that the efficacy of science implies that only what science can detect, measure, and manipulate has objective existence, is to seriously distort any semblance of logical rigor in one's reasoning. The fact that the "material" world is highly amenable to powerful and useful manipulation through our methods of science, in no remote manner vitiates a claim that human minds transcend the "material" world, and that the mental and spiritual aspects of the realities we encounter are more fundamental, more real, and far more glorious than those "material" aspects of our world, which so easily yield to our methods of scientific expertise. "Material" reality can be viewed (properly) as a vital aspect of our world of experiences, but that it is more a product of the powers inherent in the life and conscious forces of Mind, than it is a manifestation of the nature of ultimate reality.
      It is extremely important to understand that a philosophy which renders mind (consciousness) null and void is not only misguided, but dehumanizes and terribly de-spiritualizes us living beings, whose very minds (our consciousnesses) are the only powers by which we can experience our world, the only means by which we can feel, think, imagine, reason, wonder, love, rejoice, and experience the exhilarations and vitality of what it means to be a living, vibrant soul (mind, or spirit). To seek to materialize all of reality, and to downgrade to the level of essential non-reality our very personal and direct experience (our very consciousness), is a route that tends toward a decimation of all appreciation for the spiritual side of the human phenomenon, and tends to lead toward a materialistic ethos (devoid of deep spiritual devotion). The consequences of such a distorted worldview are bound to give rise to a serious (even frightening) devaluation of the mental, moral, and spiritual aspect of the human being. That is why scientific materialism ought to be resisted by all those who deeply care about the spiritual aspects of our human condition, and who value the beauty and glory inherent in love, goodness, moral purity, faithfulness, humble and caring service, and the joys that can be experienced through discovering an unfathomably great and glorious Divine Reality, and the worship of whom can engender the deepest possible peace, satisfaction, love, and joy of which the human being is capable.
      In summary, it is clear that the humanly devised scientific method is a wonderfully powerful tool, and is capable of hugely enhancing the human well-being (with respect to food, shelter, medical resources, conveniences, comforts, etc.); however, it is equally clear that this method of unraveling the profound mysteries that manifest themselves in nature utterly fails to provide us with any meaning in life, any basis for moral values, any explanation of why we exist, any transcendent source of values, or any cause for comfort and joy in the face of devastating tragedies (where science totally fails us). Indeed, science is completely impotent in the face of our most urgent and pressing questions and concerns: namely, those revolving around human suffering, our craving for meaning in life, our desire to experience satisfaction of the innate need to be significant (in a universe where, according to science, we are totally devoid of significance, beyond what our fellow humans may or may not choose to bestow upon us), and our inescapable dread of the termination of our human lives (a chronic source of profound angst, when we fail to have faith in a glorious realm hereafter). In view of all this, it is appropriate that we deeply respect the powers of science, and appreciate the wonderful benefits it can bestow upon us, but it is even more vital that we come to grips with the inherent limitations of the scientific method (the fact that it fails utterly to offer any guidance for our ethics, our value systems, or for our undeniable craving for spiritual satisfaction). The truly appropriate worldview, is one in which we come to understand that "material" reality is only one aspect of ultimate reality, and that the mental, spiritual, and conscious realms of reality are more real, more lasting, more fundamental, and more significant than any aspect of those entities and forces inherent in the merely "material" realities. The precious, wondrous, majestic, and glorious Divine Realm is, after all, the infinite, eternal, and loving Force, through whom all reality (including all life and consciousness) is engendered.

Top

Quantum Physics Demands a Revolution in the Paradigm of Physical Reality

      As was alluded to at the beginning of this chapter, the exciting and paradigm-busting revolution inherent in the discovery of quantum reality has monumental implications for our concept of "material" reality. Physics can never return to the old, "naive" worldview, in which matter consists of specific, localizable, individual, and utterly objectively real particles. Rather, matter is now (with the advent of quantum mechanics) seen to be sheer energy and to possess both the properties of particles and waves (respectively), when observed differently, and under different circumstances. Furthermore, "particles" of matter can no longer be viewed (with absolute clarity, logical consistency, and reliability) as absolutely existing in a manner which is completely independent of observers, nor can such "particles" (subatomic "particles") be regarded as possessing objectively existing characteristics (such as position, momentum, charge, etc.), unless a specified measurement or observation is made. These facts force upon us some kind of genuine paradigm shift, in respect to our view of "material" reality. That is, when we are dealing with microphysics, we can no longer be justified in regarding "particles" as existing in strictly specifiable locations in space, nor can we be justified in concluding that they possess specifiable and exact properties, nor are we allowed to conclude that interactions between such "particles" are strictly constrained to the requirement of Einstein's Special Relativity (that the speed of light is the universally maximum speed at which any signal can be transmitted in the universe). Rather, it is the case that these "particles" are found to have only probabilities for existence in specific locations, to possess only probabilities for evincing specific attributes, and that (furthermore) these "particles" possess that fantastic power to "relate to each other", when separated by great distances, instantaneously. In physics, such properties of instantaneous "communication" between particles can be described as entanglement. All of those characteristics of microphysics refuse to come under the rubric of classical physics, in which it was taken for granted that all particles of matter possessed (at all times) exact positions in space, highly precise momenta (at all times), and that they always existed objectively (utterly without regard for their being observed or measured), and were continuously (at each moment) possessed of very specific attributes. The fact of the matter is that no one in the physics community, or in philosophy, or in any branch of human knowledge, has successfully deciphered the nature of microphysics, nor has anyone offered any coherent, logically consistent, or intuitively comprehensible scheme of "material" reality which is truly consistent with the very precise, repeated observations of the nature of the behavior of subatomic phenomena. This means that our common sense of what the universe is really like has to undergo some monumental modifications. Reality refuses to conform to our common sense, and we are coerced into seriously questioning whether or not our "material" world is remotely consonant with our intuitive (and highly recalcitrant) convictions concerning what this "material" world really is.
      It needs to be pointed out that, if in microphysics (the physics of the extremely minute) matter refuses to yield to our common sense of what the "matter" of our macrocosm is actually like, then we are compelled to ask whether or not the macrocosm is the same world as the microcosm. If "particles" of matter evince such a nature in the realm of microphysics that we are not permitted to treat those "particles" as possessing objective, localized existence, then how is it possible that when those minute "particles" coalesce into larger aggregates (visible and tangible entities), they suddenly change their metaphysical makeup, and then conform to our common sense (possessing absolute and objective existence)? This is a conundrum of such major proportions, that no philosopher of physics can intelligently regard it with less than wonderment, awe, fascination, and the demand for seriously questioning the validity of our commonsensical view of the existence of an absolutely objective "material" reality. It is quite understandable that the working physicist may just want to ignore these awesome dilemmas, and leave it up to the philosophers to try to figure out what is ultimately going on. After all, the working physicist does not have to seriously concern oneself with the ultimate natures of space, time, or "matter.? Rather, it is possible to make wonderfully rewarding and beneficial discoveries in physics, without ever even being concerned with the ultimate natures of those entities and forces upon which the discoveries are based. Nevertheless, it is clear that anyone who would claim to understand true reality (to know just what our universe is really like), cannot afford to take lightly such paradigm-shattering, and concept-revolutionizing discoveries, as those which accompany the advent of the unraveling of some of the awesomely mysterious properties of micro-particles. Physics can never revert to the same "naive" world that existed in the classical era of the physical sciences. We are coerced to wonder what "material reality" really is. Postulating the existence of infinitely many universes (as do some physicists and philosophers), in order to seek to explain quantum weirdness, is such an awesomely heavy metaphysical baggage that it seems as if one who reasons thusly may we be desperately clinging onto a materialist worldview. Strict materialism and complete reductionism come into powerful conflict with the enigmas that are undeniably forced upon the rational thinker by the quantum mystery.
      It is appropriate to point out that many very bright and highly competent physicists have felt almost compelled to seek to explain aspects of quantum phenomena, by means of bringing into the equation human conscious powers. Yet, even the supposition that conscious minds impact upon micro-particles, and that consciousness is required for "collapsing the wave function" (for transforming mere potentiality into actuality), is still beset with its own share of conundrums. Among those dilemmas is the question of whether or not the universe (or any objects in the universe) exists when no conscious mind is observing it. For those who would subscribe to a divine consciousness (eternally existing, independently of the universe), the existence of the universe may require conscious awareness, but this divine consciousness could eternally contemplate all existing reality. Yet, a question that arises for the physicist is this: If the divine mind is continuously observing the universe (continuously keeping it in a state of actuality), why are human observers needed in order to bring about the "collapse of the wave function", and thereby produce objectively real entities in our world? In other words, if the divine mind is continuously "observing" our "material" universe (such that all the universe continuously exists, even before conscious minds evolved therein), why should human observations (human consciousness) be any requirement for actualizing some micro-particle, and thus bringing it into actualization? Should not such particles be continuously actualized by the divine mind? Thus, it seems that, even with postulating the need for conscious observation in the actualization of the potential realities, we are confronted with conundrums that refuse to yield to our highly finite human powers of reason and understanding.
      Nevertheless, it still needs to be pointed out that any kind of strictly materialist paradigm of our "physical" universe is one which is seriously afflicted with inconsistencies, such that a coherent scheme is left wanting. But the crucial issue that any systematic and comprehensive philosopher must face is the hugely mysterious fact of our undeniable force of human conscious powers. Such a philosopher may seek to downplay the importance of consciousness, and may even resort to eliminating it from his worldview (as any kind of objective aspect of reality whatever), but this philosopher is still left with an awesomely huge metaphysical gap in that philosophy -- the utter failure to account for human and animal consciousness. To seek to produce a coherent philosophy of reality, and then to take the tactic of sweeping under the rug (seeking to hide and eliminate) the wondrous human power of conscious thinking, feeling, and contemplating that very conscious power itself, is a route that is not worthy of any truly competent philosopher.
      The conclusion to be reached here, is that the most consistent, rational, rigorously logical, and harmonious system of philosophy, is one which rejects the strictly materialist worldview, and grants to human consciousness an efficacy that seems to be an undeniable aspect of our realities, and then proceeds to postulate that our human consciousness did not arise from totally inert mindlessness (an utterly unconscious universe), but that the primal reality is consciousness itself. This system of philosophy does not encounter any mystery of why consciousness should exist in humans and animals, because it declares that consciousness is the very power by means of which humans and animals came into being. It will be conceded, however, that there is currently no means by which humans can understand how consciousness (mind) and "unconscious" matter can interact. The fact of our human dilemma is such that we are simply not possessors of such cognitive powers that would permit us to fully unravel the numerous, profound, and unyieldingly complex conundrums that confront our puny intellects. Therefore, genuine humility is in order, and it is highly therapeutic to concede that we humans are at the mercy of powers and forces that boggle our intellects and leave us defenseless in the face of a universe so vast, mysterious, complex, and glorious that our most noble response is humble awe. And those people who are blessed with certain knowledge that this awesome universe is not an accident, nor a cosmic joke, but is the product of a glorious Divine Intellect, have justification for rejoicing in the mysteries surrounding us, and are highly rational in hoping for eternal perpetuation of our human conscious experiences. Thus, for such blessed people, our universe is not an alien, cold, unfeeling, merciless, mindless, and cosmic machine, but is the manifestation of a wondrously intelligent, loving, and purposeful Divine Being, who even cares greatly about our personal human troubles, struggles, defeats, triumphs, wishes, hopes, and dreams, and seeks to bring about the best possible outcome from our inevitable human vicissitudes.

Joseph A. Schrock Starkville, MS

Chapter Four
from
Metaphysics Reclaimed
How religon and science can be partners
Joseph Schrock
Metaphysics Reclaimed
Available at Amazon.com

Send comments/questions to Joseph Schrock at josephschrock@yahoo.com

Top