Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Sinking in the deep waters of Science and Consciousness

A post at Reality Base on Science and Consciousness.

This is a fascinating area with overlaps of neuroscience, cognitive science, biology, physics and philosophy. The topic naturally touches on issues of spiritual endeavor and religion as well. Like Cosmology only inward looking.

Even sticking just to science the issue of reductionism raises it head here too.


  1. That was a tough read…Joseph Levine’s Materialism and Qualia: The Explanatory Gap. Thank you for that. It challenged me for sure.
    I would agree with Mr. Levine that the argument is a epistemological one. What is knowledge? How do we know what we know? And my favorite question: WHY do we know what we know? (Do I know something is red because it is “truly red” or because my mother told me it was red as a child and her mother told her, and her mother told her,etc., and therefore now my brain is condition to recognize “red?”) I would argue that what we “know” is based on, if not because of, conditioning and environment, both immediate and extended, which in turn “colors” our perceptions and these perceptions are the basis of our beliefs and opinions. Having lived 2 score and 1 year, I can’t see anyway around that. So, I wonder, how much of our philosophizing can ever truly be objective?
    I couldn’t help but notice that Mr. Kripke, the basis for Mr. Levine’s argument in “Explanatory Gap,” is himself conditioned. He apparently was raised and still remains devoutly Jewish.

  2. It is a dense article but ultimately worth it since it had a big impact. I agree with what you say. In both science and philosophy we will need to deal with irreducible fact that we begin from our perspective and can not leave it behind. The pure objective world which is science's ideal is just that, an ideal, and I think we always get some conditioned form of access to it.

  3. The objective/subjective argument is an important one I think because it seems to me that is where both science and religion get stuck. Both already have a fixed objective in their “minds.”

    What you say resonates with me because I struggle with the science versus religion debate and how to educate young people in science without the polarity. I live in a region of the United States where science is “tolerated” in the public schools and certainly looked at with suspicion if not “the enemy.” It was this polarized argument that drove me away from science when I was younger, despite my teachers and professors telling me I could have a “promising career.” A mind full of facts was not enough for me. I desired wisdom, and a sense of "sacredness" more than facts and thus I left my love of science because I felt, wrongly, that I had to choose.

    Science and religion are very much like two divorcing parents and when the child who is stuck in the middle is asked who he/she would like to live with, often times they would choose neither (if they could) because the child can no longer decipher the two parents as individuals struggling to find themselves and the “truth.” The child merely sees them as two warring factions and one big headache.

    I know there are young people who struggle with this as I did. They are inspired by the wonder and awe of science yet they live and are conditioned in an environment that teaches them to be weary of science and/or that it is not important, or simply they themselves desire a sense sacredness in their lives and they are told by the scientific community that is all nonsense, silliness, and only unintelligent people hold such beliefs. Teachers are obligated to be open and compassionate towards these desires, not dismissive. That is not to say we will agree but the dialogue and tone can be more respectful. I am grateful to you for writing your book. It has given me a new perspective and a sense of ease in speaking about this topic, and hope in educating young people in the world of science.

  4. You express the dilemma many people feel quite articulately.

    One of the things I was hoping to show was how people who come at the world through a sense of "sacredness" could find that sensibility expressed through the narratives of science. At the same time I was also hoping to also show how non-believers can also find a commonality in their experiences (through science) with what occurs for people who consider themselves to be "spiritual" or religious.

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  6. I think you are absolutely right, sensibility for the "sacred" can be found in science. I consider myself among those who view science not just as a one dimensional set of facts and laws, but a multi-dimensional world of beauty, wonder, awe.

    What is lacking in science is a sense of community. In my opinion this is one of the main factors that keeps people in religion, so much so that they are willing to suspend their reasoning faculities. They want community, ethics, a common group to raise their family with. Science doesn't offer that. I wish it did. Maybe it will in the future....(then again maybe your book talks about that and I just haven't gotten to that part yet. So I should probably read the rest of your book first and hold my comments until later...that's probably a good idea!)

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