Sunday, January 08, 2006

Science can't know consciousness

Friend wrote in a comment below on the ID controversy:

HI BY,Only got a moment but just to say if you stake things on consciousness and put that in the hands of materialists, you'll soon find that disappearing too. They can only judge consciousness, like everything else by measurable means and so they reduce everything to that. Check out Astonishing Hypothesis by Crick, and Theatre of the Mind by Jay Ingram and possibly Conversations on Consciousness edited by Susan Blackmore and watch consciousness disappear from existence.

You may not have noticed it, but I was actually praising scientists for leaving consciousness out of the picture. Consciousness cannot be objectively verified, and therefore cannot be the subject of scientific inquiry. Consciousness can only be subjectively verified, by consciousness. So science and consciousness are better off for not being mixed together. I'm not against consciousness, or the knowing of consciousness, but I think it's a huge mistake to assume that its either possible of desireable to know consciousness scientifically. I also think it's a huge mistake to try to goad science into taking consciousness seriously. It simply can't. It can take seriously the study of the brain and nervous system, and it can take into account people's subjective accounts of consciousness, but it can't study consciousness directly.

Just as ID theory has no place in a science classroom, consciousness theory has no place in science. It certainly has a place in the minds of scientists, but not in their work. Not all scientists are athiests or deniers of consciousness. But when they do science they have to put ideas of God and consciousness aside, because it has no bearing on scientific enquiry. It's probably true that scientists tend to be atheists, and that they tend not to think of consciousness as important, but that is to some extent a product of their concentration in scientific work. The rest of us don't have to base our views of the world on science. Science is a limited tool that does wonderful things in the material world. Like every other thing in the material world, science doesn't point to God or consciousness. Only consciousness can do that, and when it does, it isn't doing science. You keep trying to blame science for being reductionist, when that is not only its purpose, but its virtue: to reduce complex subjects of study to an understandable series of simple principles. Consciousness and God cannot be studied objectively, however. They can't be reduced to anything that is tangible or comprehensible. What could science have to say about consciousness that would actually be meaningful to consciousness? It would simply be silent on the subject. Which in its way is completely appropriate, because the primary quality of consciousness is silence.

Great to hear from you, friend. I noticed you were quite active in the whole ID debate. Do you actually think the universe is intelligently designed, or do you just take a contrarian view out of anitpathy for science?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I agree with you on the subject of science and consciousness but unfortunately, 'science' will not leave well enough alone. They will co-opt it and are, as we speak. And they will shape the thought and perception of the world because people, including the media, do conflate science with authority regarding the nature of reality. I read one review in which the reviewer said that after reading the book, consciousness seemed more like an invention of the human mind than a reality. See what I mean?

It is this materialist mindset or paradigm that I thank religion for rescuing me from and I want to do whatever I can to keep that escape hatch open for others.

I do think there is only conscious being in which everything appears and so I cannot see how can it not have an effect.

From there it is purely speculative but I do not see forward planning as much as I do spontaneous action based on such subjective forces of attraction and repulsion, identification, equilibrium, liberation, and so on. The result of this action is to create trailing effects which concretize and then influence and restrict further action and movement of consciousness as it changes focus. I do actually see the possibility of cosnciousness operating at the physical level although the level at which our consciousness is focused is far from that at the moment.

I know its bizarre and probaly best not mused aloud in public, but really I have nothing at stake in it all other than to suggest the possibility of divinity acting from subjectivity rather than as some objective idea of the divine appearing within its own creation, as atheists tend to be restricted to.

I see the divine more its own dupe than some grand designer creating ready made perfect worlds, in love with its own reflection, but really divinely profoundly in love, and then only later waking up to what it's gotten itelf into and seeking liberation from its own actions. Do I take this seriously? Yes and no. No because of the poverty of my imagination and because I don't know. Yes, because it seems a more likely creation myth to me than most. But 'creation' only relates to the appearance itself, not that from which it all springs. There, there is no doubt in my mind. There was no beginning. There is only the eternal for which no words really surfice.

I do hope we widened the ID debate a little from its tiny little oppositional warfare situation to something a bit more meaningful and real.

BTW, I love science. I think its amazing what has come from the materialist mindset. I just wish this reductionist view wouldn't get conflated with notion that it is the official cultural view of the nature of reality in the popular mind, of which mine was once a desperately trapped example.