True science and religion are complementary

I was struck by this post by Aperture of Brahma. It says in a few words the relationship between science and religion.

“True science and true religion are twin sisters. Where the one goes, the other necessarily follows.

“True science” refers to our role as an observer of experience.

“True religion” refers to our role as a participant within experience.

Non-Duality refers to the unity of the polarizing concepts; the ability to observe and participate at the same time. Mindfulness trains us to become an observer of our experience while being a participant within it.

I think I have spent many words saying something similar, but here is the essence.

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The Web of Life Paradigm

My previous post on ecoliteracy brought to mind a review I did of two books, both published in 1996.

  • The Whispering Pond, Ervin Laszlo, Element
  • The Web of Life, Fritjof Capra, Harper Collins

The review appeared in Long Range Planning magazine in 1997, so is written from a business/ strategic planning perspective, but the messages are widely applicable. Any books by these two authors are well worth reading.

Some of the references to current trends now appear somewhat dated, a lot has happened in over 20 years! Sadly, a lot of the change since then has not been for the better.

Why should business people be interested in two recent books describing thinking from the forefront of popular science? The answer lies in the way all our thinking is dominated by the underlying paradigms that have crystallised in our consciousness since the scientific revolution. This structure is being shattered by the sort of developments described in these books. The world of the future is likely to be founded on this emerging underlying paradigm.

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Interview with René Descartes

I recently came across this interview, dated 2001/1649.

Interviewer: Bonjour, Monsieur Descartes. Can I call you René?

Descartes: Allô, allô. Mais of course!

Interviewer: I have come back from the twenty first century to ask you a few questions. People there are very interested in your ideas, but you have been getting some bad press lately. Are you happy to take part?

Descartes: I think so.

Read More »

Are Humans Special?

Most characteristics of human beings are shared in different ways with other species. Humanity is special in its ability to dominate all other species and in its capacity for abstract thought. Other species are special, each in its own way.

Because that abstract thought has become increasingly dominant, humanity has increasingly lost touch with the rest of nature. The tragic phenomenon of today’s many threatened species and rapidly changing climate, still substantially ignored by our ‘business as usual’ political mindset, is leading in a clearly unsustainable direction.

In Blind Spots, Christian de Quincey suggests that the roots of this modern crisis lie in this presumption of human specialness – and squarely places scientific materialism and religion in his sights as substantial causative agents.

  • Materialism treats the matter of nature as ‘dead’, insentient and of no intrinsic value – (in this view) only creatures with consciousness have intrinsic value and that comes from brains, especially that great human brain. Doubts exist on the consciousness and sentience of various species, because of course you cannot measure consciousness.
  • In the previously dominant paradigm of Christian religion, biblical scripture reinforces the myth that ‘only humans have souls, or consciousness’.

We cannot do without science and religion; we do need them to eschew this crazy materialism and habit of perceiving human specialness, and forge a new path that sees humans as an integral part of nature, perhaps with a special responsibility to just not screw it up.

 

 

Consciousness

Scientific materialists claim that consciousness presents a ‘hard problem’ that will ultimately be solved by science demonstrating how consciousness is created by brain activity. Personally I think this is nonsense – consciousness lies outside the domain of science. In this post I explore what consciousness is through the lens of the philosophy of panpsychism, as presented in philosopher Christian de Quincey’s book Blind Spots.

Consciousness (or mind) is subjective, it is undetectable, is not measurable, and is not located in space.

Physical entities have extension in space, consist of matter-energy and can be measured by science.

Consciousness and matter/energy are the inner and outer of existence. They always go together. Consciousness is the capacity for knowing, feeling, being aware, making choices. It needs energy to act. Consciousness is pervasive throughout the universe, and goes ‘all the way down’ to the smallest components.

Consciousness gives meaning to the universe, gives an order that would otherwise dissipate through entropy, according to the laws of thermodynamics.

Consciousness provides a potential explanatory ‘mechanism’ for phenomena of action at a distance, such as intentional healing, remote communication, quantum interconnections and other well-documented phenomena – which provide great difficulty for science.

To me, this all seems rather more plausible than scientific materialism, and seems consistent with the world as I see it, and as it is reported by others.

Does this matter? Well yes, it is crucial. Scientific materialism and the relentless focus of materialist economics and everyday life on the outer, as opposed to the inner, is actually in the process of destroying the world it has created, through a lack of the wisdom that comes from inner focus. Do I need to mention the evident lack of sustainability again: global warming, pollution, wars, inequality, lack of concern for the poor etc.?

Do read Blind Spots or another of de Quincey’s books.

Featured image entitled ‘The path to consciousness’ is by Sar Maroof, via Wikimedia Commons

Exploring Ontology

Ontology – the fundamental nature of being

Something exists. As sentient conscious beings, we each know this for certain.

Nothing cannot cause something. So something must have always existed, as must consciousness.

Big Bang theory models the creation of space-time out of nothing, which is ontologically suspect.

Materialist philosophy suggests that consciousness emerged from no-consciousness, which is ontologically miraculous.

At the heart of things is mystery, which leaves plenty of space for God.

Inspired by Christian de Quincey’s book Blindspots.

Fibonacci Grape Pips?

2,1,2,2,3,3,3,2,2,5,1,2,2,2,3,5,2…

I was idly counting the pips in each grape off a bunch from E Leclerc (cf Tesco, Kroger). (It seems that France has not really caught on to the fashion for seedless grapes; most on sale had pips. Yes, they were more tasty.) My idle counting had spotted a potential ‘pattern’ – so far these are all Fibonacci numbers, and it is well known that Fibonacci numbers appear frequently in nature. Could it be…?? Then came the next sequence:

4,3,3,1,2,2,5,2,2,6

Now FOUR is not a Fibonacci number, so appears to be anomalous. Well, science does allow for anomalous results that don’t fit the current theory. Then comes the SIX. But here I notice two tiny black dots in the grape – putative pips that did not develop – which makes 8, another Fibonacci number. Maybe I’d missed a black dot with the 4?

So I can hang on to my theory for a while, until more anomalous data emerges. A rather trivial example of the scientific method in action? Of course, there are far too few results to draw conclusions…

Featured image by Thamizhpparithi Maari, via Wikimedia Commons

Faith

As a teenager, I read William James’s book The Varieties of Religious Experience, and was quite enthralled, coming as I did from a strong scientific education with a lukewarm smattering of Methodism. So I was delighted to read the following James quote from Alister McGrath in his book Enriching our Vision of Reality. It is the best definition I’ve seen of that elusive word ‘faith’.

“Faith means belief in something concerning which doubt is still theoretically possible… Faith is synonymous with working hypothesis.”

This is not faith as dogma, which is a common association used to denigrate. It is faith ‘sensitive to reason, experimental in nature, and therefore susceptible to revision.’

McGrath’ s context is in the bringing together of science and Christian theology, but we could apply his reasoning to any religion, different sciences, and other ways of looking at the world, such as astrology.

His point is that both science and religion are ways in which we strive to understand the mystery of life. Both develop hypotheses to live by, but are subject to change where they do not correspond with lived reality. Both use story/metaphor/analogy to point the way; science adds the use of mathematical models, where it can. Perhaps it is this wonderful use of mathematics that encourages the common misperception that everything can be rationally described, but this is clearly not the case – as was concluded by, among others, Einstein, Newton and Darwin. There is always the mystery beyond…

In particular, materialists can lay no claim to a privileged context. Their faith in materialism and objective knowledge is as much a working hypothesis as is the Christian doctrine of the trinity. The so-called New Atheists are simply asserting their particular faith.

The Inner Life of Animals

“The idea that there was an abrupt break in the course of evolution, and that at some point everything was reinvented, is an idea whose time is past. The only major point of contention today is whether animals can think; that’s what we do best, after all.”

inner life animalsIn a way this quote summarises the essence of Peter Wohlleben’s important book The Inner Life of Animals: Surprising Observations of a Hidden World. He presents much evidence that the inner life of animals is very much like our own, perhaps except for the thinking faculty.

The evidence is extensive and overwhelming, a combination of scientific research and the personal observations of one who works on the land. For example:

  • ravens have a strong sense of right and wrong, and are very intelligent, using their beaks much as we do our hands.They and other species that live in social groups can match, and in some cases even exceed, the mental prowess of primates.
  • wild boar know exactly which other boar they are related to, even if the connection is a distant one. Indeed, pigs are extremely intelligent animals. They teach their young and help them deliver their own children later in life. They and other animals understand their own names, and thus have some degree of self-consciousness.
  • crows are known for recognising people and for having strong emotional reactions to those they don’t like.
  • horses know just by how tense their rider’s body is and enjoy being directed and exercised.
  • doe’s grieve for their dead offspring.
  • shame and embarrassment are evident in dogs, and function as a kind of act of contrition – they are mechanisms for asking for forgiveness.
  • animals are capable of empathy, and experience fear and pain.
  • it’s quite clear to foresters and hunters alike that wild animals learn from experience. Wild boar hunt at night when they themselves are hunted, but not otherwise.

As well as all this evidence, there is also the suggestion that humans have actually largely lost touch with a capability that animals still have – the sixth sense, which is a necessary tool for survival in the wild. Why is it that, in comparison with animals, we are so unaware of changes in our environment? The answer lies in the way our modern home and work environments overwhelm our senses. How much more accurately must early peoples have been able to read the woods and the meadows, exposed, as they were, to all those stimuli day in and day out?

For us, the wild largely no longer exists. We have already cleared, built on or dug up 80 per cent of the Earth’s land mass. Our disconnection with nature has major impacts, including hundreds of thousands of wild boar and pigs killed every year in EU alone.

In Europe at least half the night sky is affected by light pollution, disorienting many species of animals that depend on stars to orient themselves at night. Moths, for instance, rely on the moon when they want to fly in a straight line.

Instead of the sixth sense we have this highly developed abstract thinking capability. We act automatically and subconsciously, but the conscious part of the brain then comes up with an explanation for the action a few seconds later – a face-saving explanation for our fragile ego, which likes to feels it’s completely in control at all times. In many cases, however, the other side – our unconscious – is in charge of operations. Emotions are the language of the unconscious and as we have seen the evidence is that animals also experience them.

Our scientific society  denies these emotions in animals, so that we can continue to exploit them without troubling our conscience too much. We are living a lie.

Wohlleben actually identifies a root cause in humans: the capacity to feel empathy wastes away in people who are denied early exposure to this skill. So upbringing of children outside of an empathic environment is probably a root cause of our denial of the suffering of animals, as well as that of our fellow humans. One can only reflect on the typical English upper class childhood, sent away to impersonal boarding school at an early age.

We have so much in common with animals and they have so much to teach us, if only we will listen before we’ve exterminated every last one of them. Wohlleben leaves us with this wonderful thought:

“Squirrels, deer and wild boar with souls: that’s the thought that makes life special and warms my heart when I have the opportunity to watch animals.”

See also Wohlleben’s superb and even more gripping book The Hidden Life of Trees.

Can computers ever be conscious?

This question is posed in an interesting paper True Artificial Consciousness – Is It Possible? from Sean Webb on the IONS blog. The paper is quite detailed and worth a read if you’re interested in the subject. My take is somewhat simpler, as follows.

Everything has an ‘inner’ and an ‘outer’. Science and technology deal with the ‘outer’, consciousness is a feature of the ‘inner’. Could the twain ever meet? Explaining consciousness is regarded as a ‘hard problem’ of science – too right – they operate in different domains.

So-called artificial intelligence is basically technology that emulates the real intelligence that flows forth from consciousness. This emulation can increasingly appear to be conscious, and even pass the so-called Turing Test of intelligent behaviour, but I would suggest it is not really conscious – could its ‘inner’ conceivably emerge from the ‘outer’ algorithms?

So, if we let machines control things we finish up with a mechanistic universe that is devoid of the spark of consciousness, indeed could become its persecutor.

Featured illustration of the Turing Test by By Mushii , via Wikimedia Commons

 

Reality Is Not What It Seems

reality coverI recently discovered Carlo Rovelli’s book Reality Is Not What It Seems: The Journey to Quantum Gravity. This was among the big sellers at Waterstones, and I soon discovered why. Rovelli is very good at communicating ‘difficult’ scientific ideas. His subject matter is physics, that most basic of sciences, and this book gives a good overview of the implications of the current thinking of some physicists.

His story begins with the Ancient Greeks and particularly Democritus and his atomism, the essential granular quality of the universe. Although no work of Democritus survived, the essential ideas were rediscovered at the time of the Renaissance, ultimately inspiring Isaac Newton and his model of the existence of particles in space and time, and of forces between them, action at a distance, what became known as gravity.

The next great step was the ‘discovery’ of electric and magnetic fields between particles by Faraday and Maxwell.

With his special theory of relativity in 1905, Einstein brought together space and time, into space-time, and in 1915 his general relativity further integrated spacetime with fields, as covariant fields.

The amazing story of quantum mechanics, developed by many collaborators including Planck, Heisenberg and Dirac, then simplified the physicists’ model of the universe to two things: Spacetime and Quantum fields. And then the ultimate aim of Quantum gravity is to reduce this to just one building block of the whole universe – Covariant quantum fields.

Yes it’s a great story and well worth reading for insight into where the physicists are at, but without the incomprehensible (to most people) maths that lies behind it.

But always remember this. It’s only a model; it’s not reality. And the model doesn’t really understand the interiority of things, life, consciousness, the mystery of existence… i.e. most of what’s important.

 

Mapping the Universe

I love Mekhi and Joe’s posts on physics on the blog Rationalising the Universe, which brings me more up to date on the enthusiasms for mathematics, physics and cosmology of my youth. But I had to take issue with the conclusion of the recent interesting post on What is a Field, which ended with the following statement:

There we have it, space is no longer a separate entity, space is a field and the universe now consists of fields and particles alone.

That’s exciting. Newton set the ball rolling on mathematical models of the universe, and the current mathematical model of the universe has now simplified to just fields and particles.

But look at the statement again. It says “the universe now consists of…”. Well actually it doesn’t, and I suggest that we still have little idea of ‘what the universe consists of’. But we do have a great model that explains what we see and can measure in a reasonably consistent manner.

The point is

“The map is not the territory”

Alfred Korzybski, 1931

Featured image from the blog Rationalising the Universe

What Newton really thought

Alert readers of this blog may have realised that I am reading Henri Bortoft’s book Taking Appearance Seriously: The Dynamic Way of Seeing in Goethe and European Thought. Bortoft throws interesting insight into the role of Isaac Newton in creating the modern scientific world, confirming Edi Bilimoria’s article mentioned in an earlier post.

Isaac Newton basically invented modern mathematical physics in his masterwork, Principia Mathematica (1687). To the theory of atomism and mechanical philosophy he added the notion of forces which act between bodies that are not in contact.

Bortoft suggests that from the eighteenth century onwards,  gravity began to be thought of as a ‘property of matter’, as if it were an attractive force inherent to matter. This is not what Newton thought. He did not believe in attraction as a real, physical, force.

For example, in a letter Newton said:

Pray do not ascribe that notion to me, for the cause of gravity is what I do not pretend to know and therefore would take more time to consider of it… Gravity must be caused by an agent acting constantly according to certain laws, but whether this agent be material or immaterial I have left to the consideration of my readers.

So Newton’s major discovery was to the effect that we could create mathematical models of the real world, what we now call ‘physics’. Subsequent founders of modern science were dedicated to the mathematical approach to nature, but ultimately the ascendancy of the mathematical was accompanied by the downgrading of the sensory and increasingly seeing the world as a mathematical abstraction. To many scientists the world became de-spiritualised and dead.

This was not Newton’s intention, although his name is often invoked as the originator of such a viewpoint.

Petrochemical dream or nightmare?

So we took the grandchildren to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, which we’d much enjoyed in previous years, particularly to see the new Wiess Energy Hall.

What a spectacular set of exhibits this provides, summarising all you might know or wish to know about the oil and petrochemical industries. Many working models and explanations keep young and old engaged and interested for hours. What a monument to the wonderful creative spirit that has engaged humanity for a century and mostly created the modern world, with its variety of fuels, chemicals, plastics…

If you want to know about different types of oil rigs, the fracking revolution, oil pipelines, and much more, this is the place to go. Maps show the incredible scales of operations in the US.

There are even sections on nuclear power and renewable energy sources, albeit at a lower level than the obviously dominant petrochemicals.

Sadly, there are things it does not tell you, issues it does not address – like how this petrochemical dream is running into the buffers.

It does not tell you about the global warming and climate change that is being caused, nor of the suppression of knowledge of this by those who first knew – the oil industry.

It does not tell you how the land and sea are becoming increasingly polluted with all those plastics, not to mention the regular oil spillages, escaping methane, frack-caused earthquakes,…

It does not tell you how the very soil we grow our crops on is being denatured by those chemical fertilisers.

It does not tell how insects, birds, vegetation, mammals, fish are all being depleted, species destroyed at an alarming rate as the chemicals and plastics spread around the environment and the industrial scale enabled destroys the intimate spaces of nature.

It does not tell how human populations have been subjugated and their politics subverted by the imperative for this energy.

It does not tell how the earth cries out at this painfully rapid change, and is harnessing its resources for survival, ensured by its wonderful yet frightful variability – the heatwaves, coldwaves, biblical rainfalls and fires and floods, hurricanes, typhoons, thunders and lightnings…

In short, like most human endeavours, this industry’s continued prevalence contains within itself the seeds of its own destruction, which it resists to the death throes. But why would all those so-generous oil industry related sponsors of this exhibition in the oil capital wish to tell that story?

Featured image shows one of the exhibits: “Energy City,” a 2,500-square-foot 3-D landscape representing Houston, the surrounding Gulf coastal waters and the terrain of southeast and central Texas, aiming to bring to life the energy value chain.

Isaac Newton, Mystic

Isaac Newton is generally seen as a key founder of modern science, via his major work Principia Mathematica and theory of gravity – which led on to the theory of the ‘clockwork universe’ and much of the modern materialist/atheistic world view.

Newton was indeed a great polymath. What is less known is that his work was inspired by his studies of religion and mysticism, which were at least as important to him as the natural sciences. The idea of a clockwork universe would have been anathema to Newton, as would the idea of atheism.

This is all explained in Edi Bilimoria’s well-researched article ‘Newton’ in the current issue of Paradigm Explorer, magazine of the Scientific and Medical Network.

Interestingly, Newton’s gravity and its attraction were ‘a purely mathematical concept involving no consideration of real and primary physical or mechanical causes’ – which is why his book is about ‘mathematics’ and not ‘mechanics’.

As Edi explains, Newton’s religious ideas were well developed and have little in common with the Christianity of the time, being more related to the view that God is everywhere immanent and transcendent. Quoting Newton himself:

[God] endures forever , and is everywhere present; and by existing always and everywhere, he constitutes duration and space. In him are all things contained and moved…

Of course, many modern scientists have come to a similar viewpoint on the importance of religion. For example, that more modern polymath Albert Einstein:

“Science without religion is lame; religion without science is blind.”

Edi’s article is well worth reading.

Spider silk mystery

While watching the roosting birds come in as the sun gradually descended down to the level of the hills at Parkgate, I became aware of all these lines that had appeared in the grass of the marsh – apparently long strands of spider silk lit up by the very low sunlight behind them. The more I looked, the more the grass seemed to be covered in lots of long strands of spider silk. So I took a photograph.

parkgate spider web

You can see the left-right yellowish line clearly in the photograph. Now, what puzzles me is, how can a single strand of spider silk appear so thick on a photograph?Read More »

Lighting effect

An interesting example of the effect of low winter sunlight on a building – Mostyn House School at Parkgate, Cheshire.

Most of the black/white contrast has gone from the image on the left, shot towards the sun, which was to the right. The image on the right, taken at the same time of day with the sun behind the camera, shows perfect contrast. These images reflect what the eye was seeing.

Mostyn House School was a school from 1854-2010, now converted to private apartments.

The mystery

Individual consciousness is undeniable.

The existence of other consciousnesses and the external world is the only sensible basis for living.

According to cosmologists, space-time began with a ‘big bang’ and things gradually evolved into increasing complexity. At some point life emerged, and eventually so did individual consciousness.

So what happened/ what was the cause of (or ‘before’) the ‘big bang’? Does the question have any meaning?

And it leads to the question what if life/ consciousness did not exist?And how could it have started?

At which point the brain hurts.

There is always a mystery at the heart of existence! Some call it God.

Featured image is a universal timeline from NASA, via Wikimedia Commons

 

No, not this way

homo deusWith my interest in ideas of a New Renaissance, I could not resist reading Yuval Harari’s Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book that is clearly widely read judging by its prominence in the local Waterstones.

Harari is an entertaining and informative writer, and I enjoyed reading his description of the emergence of the anthropocene era, and particularly his story following Western culture from the Renaissance, and the subsequent emergence of three interrelated themes of humanism, liberalism and democracy, along with modern science/technology and capitalism.

Harari suggests that liberalism is running into the buffers, pointing at some of the current symptoms that suggest that all is not well with the world. Well we could all make our own lists of those – like increasing inequality, global warming, species extinction, pollution,… The current paradigm or ‘web of meaning’ is no longer effective in addressing the situation we’re in. I cannot but agree with him this far.

But then his analysis suddenly seems to go awry. He suggests that contemporary science contradicts free will and the possible existence of a soul or inner self, that the mind is essentially algorithmic and subject to external control. “… biologists concluded that organisms are algorithms.” Of course, if you set out with a ‘clockwork universe’ materialistic mentality, this is the sort of world view you might come up with.

Then we get to the suggestion that organisations are just algorithms, and you could eventually replace the whole structure of an organisation with algorithms, no jobs for humans. Of course, were all this the case it undermines humanism, liberalism and the whole human project. But, come on…

And then there is the suggestion that in the era of ‘big data’ being gathered by such a Facebook and Google, these algorithms will get to know us ‘better than we know ourselves’. The dangers of ‘big data’ are clear enough, in that they may have played a role in the Brexit and Trump phenomena, but what on earth can it mean to know us better than we know ourselves?

Inequality is a big phantom in this context, as an increasingly a rich elite will have no interest in providing for the mass of humanity, as they the elite will no longer be dependent on the labours of so many others – leading eventually to a new caste system. The elite become like gods (hence homo deus), and the rest, and liberal ideals, go hang.

And if you don’t like that scenario, Harari offers an even more disturbing possibility: the religion of Dataism. “The universe consists of data flows, and the value of any phenomenon or entity is determined by its contribution to data processing.” This is a world where computers have taken over and the ‘world’ is run totally by algorithms. Insane.

So basically Harari is giving a couple of horror scenarios, nightmares outlining where we don’t want to go. The thing about human beings is that we have the capability to change direction, change the paradigm, change the ‘web of meaning’, change what is considered acceptable and what not.

What he doesn’t offer is any clue to a New Renaissance.

 

 

 

Dowsing

Well, it happens from time to time. Some scientist pokes his head above the parapet and characterises some traditional knowledge as credulous, bogus beliefs, witchcraft or some such. This time it’s dowsing, although it might be homeopathy, astrology, poltergeists, the paranormal, near death experiences, telepathy, precognition, knowledge of a previous life, etc etc.

The pattern is always the same. The scientific materialistic paradigm of scientism lives by the dogma that everything is material and everything will ultimately be explained in objective terms by science. Of course, this is just as much a bogus belief as any of these other systems. Sadly it seems to be espoused by much of the UK’s mainstream media.

If the guy really wants to know about dowsing he should research it, get some rods or a pendulum and try it out, give it a chance. He might get a big surprise. Water companies are commercial organisations and are likely to be seeking the most cost effective way of finding water, leaks etc. If this is dowsing, so be it.

I’m not trying to denigrate science itself, which is a wonderful way of understanding aspects of the world and developing technologies which enhance our lives. It is the closed mind of materialism, and the denial of possible alternative explanations and approaches to the world, that actually contradict the very spirit of science.

Dismissing things because of your own credulous beliefs is not science.

See also earlier posts Materialism, The Master and His Emissary, Battle of Ideas.