Tuesday, 23 June 2015

What came first: Consciousness or Matter? (Does it matter? What do you think?)

"Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society." 
Doris Lessing ― The Golden Notebook

Following on from my last post, it is now time to delve into what being a Monist Idealist Panentheist Catholic means for me. As explained in said last post, these words are merely labels, and labels can mean different things to different people. Also, if some labels are not recognised, but others are, then misunderstanding can creep in, adding bias to the unknown labels towards the recognised label. This is ironic given that the reason for multiple labels in the first place is so that they all refine each other. So, what exactly does this set of labels mean?

These labels are simply a shorthand way of describing my personal world-view. They are not my actual world-view, but close enough to act as quick-n-dirty pointers. But before describing my own personal view of reality, perhaps a brief definition of each label (as it relates to my world-view) is first needed:

  • Monism - that all of reality, both physical and mental, are actually a single realm
  • Idealism - that of the two experiences: consciousness is the reality, and matter the illusion
  • Panentheism - that all of reality (ie consciousness) constitutes a 'universal mind'
  • Catholicism - the model I choose to represent this panentheism in practice

Being the adopted model I choose to represent my world-view, Catholicism is a stage once removed and thus immaterial to the formation of my world-view, instead it is the conclusion to which my world-view has lead me. If you are interested in seeing how religion might fit into this scientific philosophical world-view, I suggest checking out this Panentheistic Christian's video on how he equates his religion to panentheism.

Why Monism?

As explained in my prior post, the most fundamental question to be answered is: given we each experience both consciousness and a physical world we live in, how are both these incompatible experiences connected? Philosophers since Descartes (and to a lesser degree back to Plato) have struggled with this question. This dualistic nature, according to Descartes, is just as it seems... a separate non-physical realm tied to elements in the physical realm... a ghost in the machine. However, the mechanism of this connection has yet to be found. Alternatively, it is possible that there would be no problem connecting the two, if there exists only one realm rather than two. This monistic view however also creates problems, since if everything is purely material... what is consciousness and where does it come from? Similarly, if everyone's consciousness creates its reality... why do we all experience the same 'illusion' of reality.

Why Idealistic Monism?

Over time, the balance between the candidates for reality has shifted between the three. Now, despite the insistence of some teaching establishments and vocal pop scientists that the question has been solved... in their favour, developments in science in the nature of reality have steadily revealed the true nature of reality at the quantum level. And so Materialism was the first to fall some eighty years ago (though adherents refuse to accept defeat and have tried since to find contrary evidence... to no avail); Dualism waned as the search for a unified Theory of Everything began in earnest; and all the signs from quantum experiments pointed to the counter-intuitive Idealism as the true reality. And as more discoveries are revealed, each candidates' supporters try to find reasons to disprove the others. But one thing is now certain... Materialism is dead as long as David Chalmers's 'Hard Problem of Consciousness' remains unresolved. And it is far from even being defined, let alone solved.


Since the discovery of the nature of quantum reality, and more importantly the problems of superposition, measurement, double eraser, Schroedinger's cat, and Heisenberg uncertainty principle, it can no longer be denied that what we perceive to be reality, is in fact not true. Evolutionary Theory favours Fitness over Accuracy, in order for us to react quickly and with little cost to energy, so it makes sense for our perception to perceive an environment that facilitates this at the expense of irrelevant 'truth'. This has repeatedly been shown to be true, now that evolution can be described mathematically and computer modelled. What we discovered is that to perceive is less to do with the true depiction of reality, and more to do with reproduction. And this has been confirmed via fMRI scans which show that a full third of the brain is occupied when opening one's eyes. Now if the eyes were merely recording what was 'out there', then there is no need to waste valuable calories in brain activity. But since the brain is active, what is it doing, and what is the true nature of reality?

What is happening in the brain as we look around, is that it is creating an interface to what is really 'out there' to enable us to survive and reproduce. This is what we perceive as time and space. For example, the following video is not a small window to a little man inside the screen... but a representation of computer parts and computer bits that is hidden behind an interface that we perceive as a video of a TED event.  But if we cannot trust our senses to deliver accuracy and truth, how can we answer the Hard Problem of Consciousness as thus exposed?

Up until now, this has been left to the philosophers to argue over, but for science to tackle this new arena effectively and decisively, it will need the help of mathematics (as this appears to be the language in which reality is written). Luckily, this too is close to hand... in the form of pioneering work by Donald Hoffman (as summarised in his TED address):

This non-duality (Monistic Idealism), unlike Materialism which takes a top-down approach, effectively 'begging the question', is a bottom-up mathematical model of consciousness (which as the image at the top of this post shows) not only resolves the Mind-Body question, but also appears to answer the problems of quantum mechanics in that the mathematical formula for the wave function turns out to be mathematically identical to Hoffman's formula for consciousness. This Theory of Consciousness pretty much sums up my own personal observations and rationalisings, and is what I describe as Idealism for me. And I am not alone... scientist and now philosopher Bernardo Kastrup has also arrived at the same conclusions from yet another different direction. And although there are some of his conclusions I may not fully agree with, I thoroughly recommend you check out him and his books.

So where does all this leave us?

If we are seeking the meaning of life, the universe, and everything then (along with the number 42 ringing in our minds) we have the ingredients of a workable framework: a single shared consciousness created by the interaction of consciousnesses, a faux-reality created by said consciousness, and self-aware individual consciousnesses within the created material faux-reality. So to answer the question: "but what does it mean?" we can search models derived from belief-sets such as theism, atheism, pantheism, panentheism, panpsychism, and New Age et al, to see which (if any) is compatible with this monistic idealist model... and its meaning. For me, I found this to be Panentheism in the Catholic tradition.

Hopefully this begins to unravel my own personal worldview: it is not woo... it is evidence based, repeatable and falsifiable... supported by evidence, observation and mathematical proofs, built from the ground up and a priori reductionist foundation. And despite what certain university philosophy departments might teach, and ubiquitous popular science promoters with funding on their minds, the Hard Problem of Consciousness is still very much an area of intense debate... unlike the validity of Materialism which has long since been shown to be demonstrably false.

Beware the woo, and remember... Don't drink the Kool-Aid!

Monday, 22 June 2015

Not drinking the Kool-Aid

Don't drink it... no matter how enticing... don't drink the Kool-Aid

Now don't misunderstand me, I have no opinion on the (I assume) American soft drink. This blog is actually on woo and how easy people seem to be seduced by it. Rather naively, I believed that once a few actual facts were shared, then enlightenment would mean that the mastery of woo would simply blow away. I guess that makes me an optimist... except I now realise the truth... and that there is no hope for Homo Sapiens Sapiens. So my brief foray into optimism was merely an aberration to my normal pessimistic self.

Perhaps a little context is warranted.

As those of you who know me, or others who have read my various posts, already know that my 'conscious' 'mind' is a constantly seething mass of concepts, ideas, observations etc. etc. But in this particular blog I wiltry tnarrow it down to (a tad of irony here...) the one question: Why is there something rather than nothing?

Now those of you with a philosophy bent will immediately recognise this question as the biggest, most complex question there is. And that it has foxed philosophers (and their prior hominid brethren) since the species first began to think. But before panic... or rolling of the eyes... sets in, I am not seeking to answer said question, but merely to point out how a 'conspiracy of woo' is stifling the discussion. And yes... it is to you Materialists whom I address this post.

So rather than attempting to answer the question, I will use it to act as the jumping point to world-views. World-views are those beliefs that we hold not only to be true, but to be so fundamental to reality that most people don't realise that they are merely views and not the nature of reality. But before I venture into my comments on woo, I shall expound just a tad more context. Since we all have our world-views (whether or not we are aware) I should first state mine, since it relates to the point of this post, and how it came to be.

There are many labels abounding, and even those who share labels need not agree the meaning of said labels. So I guess I should perhaps subjugate myself to the most appropriate labels before I begin to define them as what they mean to me. But first, where to start?

The only thing of which we can be certain, is that there is something we know as 'I' and that this I lives in a changing world. But what might these 'I' and 'world' mean? There are 2 possible basic conclusions... best described as monist and pluralist. Basically, that everything boils down to one simple thing, or that everything is a combination of separate 'things'. In effect this latter pluralist concept was described by Descartes with his famous "Cogito ergo sum" phrase, and specifically reduces reality into a dualism. So it would be fair to assume that the reader has either a monist or dualist basis for his/her world-view.

Dualism contends that mind and matter are distinct and separate 'things'. That is, that we are made from stardust and live in a stardust-derived universe, and that there is a meta-physical, or spiritual, world which is connected to the material world through consciousness in the physical brain.

This is not a view without problems, and has resulted in what is known as the 'Hard Problem of Consciousness' as coined by David Chalmers. Suffice to say here, it is no longer a view held by most thinkers who tend to hold a monist view, but can still be found in some un-informed followers of religion. I am both a monist and Catholic (the latter of which isn't really relevant to this topic).

But being faced with the two 'known' realities of Descartes, the monist has to choose whether everything is physical or mental. And then having decided, being able to explain the other 'reality' in context. This results in either Idealism or Materialism (physicalism), and is hotly debated as both sides attempt to prove their own stance the only monist reality (as can be seen in the video below with Chalmers and Dennett). My personal monism is Idealism. So to round off my world-view labels... I am a monist idealist panentheist Catholic. Now that's out of the way, what has this to do with woo, conspiracies, and my reason for writing this post?

Most people have no interest in world-views, even when affected by their own, as it doesn't really impact their daily lives. But if introspection is tried a finer world-view can be uncovered, resulting in improvement in said daily life. Some people (including myself) can't help but be ensnared by it and seek to find 'the answer'. Some then choose to proselytise their personal world-view... often agressively. It is to this with which I take issue.

This weekend in the UK was Father's Day. And for several reasons already covered in this blog this has become very important to me. My daughter came to visit me, before the two of us travelling to meet my son. Generally it was good, but it did highlight this issue of mine, and how it now infects my troubled relationship with my kids. My daughter, you see, in happier times left the nest to read a philosophy degree. However, instead of her matriculating with an inquiring mind, she seems to have become victim to the 'conspiracy of woo'.

Now you shall be forgiven in thinking that woo only applies to non-scientific folklore or superstition, but it actually refers to any belief that is unfounded... regardless of how popular, 'sensible', or 'scientific' it may appear. It is when woo is used to discredit real evidence as woo, and redefine certain woo as the only valid approach. This is to what I refer as conspiracy, and is undertaken by neo-materialists and neo-atheists who not only adopt one side of monism, but refuse to even acknowledge its mirror: idealism. Ironic since a main staple of validity is super-symmetry, yet except when it comes to a personal view which is spread not as a view, but as a fact, with its symmetric view dismissed as woo. And worse, this is happening in our universities which should be non-partisan and explain all views along with their strength and weaknesses, and not in teaching that the 'Hard Problem of Consciousness' has been solved, and should not be questioned and that if anything or anyone does question its status as fact is lampooned as a crazy loon with a head filled with ridiculous woo... despite the fact that materialism has been debunked for centuries, and moreover this has been confirmed to be false by all the latest scientific findings (and by modern this includes the 1930s plus).

As for the 'Hard Problem of Consciousness' being solved, this not only is preposterous... it is impossible, despite what materialists maintain with smoke and mirrors. The truth is that we cannot 'solve' the question, but can amass the best evidence to support a prevaling view, be it materialist, idealist, or dualist. And it is this evidence that leads me to Monist Idealism, despite being brought up Catholic, and studying at the disciple of materialism university. This is because, returning to the message in the opening paragraph, we must start at the most a priori knowledge we know to be true, and using epistemological science to carefully build from. So this being what materialists claim that they alone do this, how can I believe them to be wrong and be an idealist? But this post is already long, so I shall save my personal world-view, and why that of the materialists is unsupported, unreasonable, and wrong for a follow-up post. For now, regardless of my beliefs or those of others, the point I want to emphasise here is that it is wrong for places of higher learning to stifle thought, skepticism, questioning and to propagate bias and isolationism of thought.