Monday, September 13, 2010

Contradictions & Paradoxes & Not

There is no argument between "religion" and "science." The argument is on the level of appearances, the insistence that one's own relativistic observer's viewpoint is the only valid observer's viewpoint. The argument of "science" (which is nothing more than a method of inquiry that leads to a practical body of descriptive knowledge) against "religion" is that religion is superstitious, unnecessary, and delusional. The argument of "religion" (which is nothing more than a method of inquiry that leads to a cloud of unknowing of which faith is proof) against "science" is that science is heartless, faithless, unethical, and detached from moral direction and social consequence.

Both viewpoints are true.

Both viewpoints are also incomplete and inaccurate, based on mutual misunderstanding and misrepresentation.

My personal, practical mysticism is grounded in, and confirmed by, theoretical physics. I am not alone in this.

But even theoretical physics is often considered heresy by mainstream physics. People don't like to have their cherished assumptions about the nature of reality questioned. This is as true for some scientists as it is for some religious. Both religious and physicists sometimes contort their ideologies into ridiculous pretzels merely to preserve the cherished assumption of causality (which is the assumption that all causes must precede effects, therefore that time is linear and unidirectional). Paradoxes, which can be miraculous, are no more accepted by standard (theological) religious logic than by the logic of classical (Newtonian) physics.

And yet miracles do happen.

The bottom line in deciphering an explanation of an event is to ask if it is necessary to invoke an outsider cause to explain an effect. In terms of theoretical physics, which contains some interpretations in which time can move in any direction and is focused, as it were, on physical objects (mass bends space and time) in a Gaussian distribution, miracles are inevitable. Cause does not always have to precede effect; effect can precede cause, from one observer's viewpoint, while from another observer's viewpoint, causality is preserved. Miracles can happen.

The religious observer's viewpoint invokes God, an outsider operator, to explain miracles. But theoretical physics argues that no such explanation is necessary and sufficient. It is not necessary to invoke God under normal physical operations. A sufficient explanation is available, using the observed laws of physics, to describe observed physical effects. In order to describe and explain the current observed state of the Universe, invoking a Creator is not necessary. This in a nutshell is the physicist observer's viewpoint.

Yet the wise physicist will point out that "necessary and sufficient" does not mean "impossible." in other words, it is not necessary to invoke God to explain human consciousness, but this does not "prove" that God doesn't exist. Scientists make this logical mistake as often as religious do. "Necessary and sufficient" to explain a physical phenomenon says nothing about faith or proof of faith—although some anti-religious scientists (such as the militant atheists) try to make it do so. But they cannot explain away the aesthetic experience of "beauty" either. And "truth" has a very limited definition within scientific experimental practice, in which a proof can be true only within specifically defined parameters relevant to the experiment. Mathematical proofs are not always true in the real world, in practice. Time can flow in more than one direction. Tachyons do seem to exist, and do seem to have been measured.

Neither classical physics or standard quantum physics today permits ‘intent’ or ‘free will’ or ‘creative intelligence’. This essential hallmark of life demands a violation of the statistical predictions of quantum physics as formulated today. This is the key idea of what I call ‘postmodern physics.’
—Jack Sarfatti, theoretical physicist

Life cannot be explained purely by causality, because will and intention and choice are involved. We not only have choices about our actions, we have choice about what we believe, and how we perceive the world. Our choices about what we believe filter our perceptions, which in a feedback loop can then also filter our beliefs. We cannot perceive what we do not believe is there; unbelief affects perception as much as belief does. We tend to view the familiar as more beautiful than the unfamiliar; we tend to preserve our habits-of-thought as our cherished assumptions about the nature of reality, and we tend to dislike and deny contradictions to those cherished assumptions. There are people who probably cannot actually have a religious experience, because they've chosen to believe in their impossibility. (Some of these are dedicated churchgoers, as well.)

The goal of meditation practice is, at bottom line, to remove the filters, so that we can perceive what's actually there. Meditation has been measured and studied using scientific operations and instrumentalities; and it has been shown to make actual changes in both biology and consciousness; and some scientists are also meditators.

Is "God" an artificial intelligence, a constructed intelligence? "God made us in his image, and we returned the favor." We project our psychologies so well onto the Universe that the Universe, which is malleable, transmits them back. "God" might be ourselves under magnification. The gods certainly seem to act in very human ways. Perhaps "God" is not necessary to explain physical phenomena, but is necessary nonetheless. Not as a balm for the troubled soul, nor as a superstition (which is what anyone convinced of their own belief system tends to label the conflicting belief systems of others), but as an awareness for the many "anomalous experiences" that people seem to keep having, over the ages, that lie outside explanation. Even scientists have had anomalous experiences, as have many mystics. My personal mysticism (which is based on personal experience, anomalous or otherwise) is not contradicted by theoretical physics, but instead seems to be confirmed by it. Yet many scientists distrust intuition, except when it confirms their own gut feelings. But scientists are human, and therefore subject to the same logical paradoxes as the rest of us. The purpose of the scientific method of experimentation is to remove bias from the experimental outcome: the attempt to see what's really there rather than what we want to believe is there. Skepticism is a positive value. (Of course, any positive value can be flipped to a negative value, if taken to an extreme.)

We won't arrive at final-stage truth by reductionism, the process of breaking processes, objects, and explanations into ever-smaller components and sub-components. Molecular biology and neuroscience have unfortunately lately developed all-too-strong a tendency towards reductionism. One objection to neuroscience that many religious have, and it is a valid objection, is the attempt to explain, or explain away, the mind and soul as wetware components of the brain-as-supercomputer. Having invented the digital computer about a century or so ago, humans now have this tendency to filter all their perceptions of reality through the paradigm of the digital computer. But binary logic, while fantastic for computing, and useful for mathematics, doesn't describe the real world, which is much better described by those still-controversial mathematical/logical tools, fuzzy logic and fractals. The world is not actually Euclidean, although many scientists continue to perceive it that way. The cherished assumptions we make about the nature of reality (life, God, the Universe, and everything) in turn filter how we perceive reality. This only gets us so far, however.

We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.
—Albert Einstein, theoretical physicist

The reductionist explanation of human consciousness as a software (wetware) derived from and generated by the organic computer of the brain falls short of real-world experience. It is not necessary to invoke human mind and soul in order to explain human behavior, or brain chemistry, but neither is it sufficient to explain all aspects of human consciousness as brain chemistry. The criteria of "necessary AND sufficient" has not been met by contemporary neuroscience in its dominantly mechanistic interpretations. In other words, while it is not necessary to invoke the soul when describing human consciousness, it is not sufficient to merely explain away the soul as a delusion created by brain operations. Real-world experience has documented many cases of anomalous experiences that cannot be explained away by anomalous brain chemistry. The universal human belief in an afterlife, which has been documented via near-death experiences and mystical experiences from many cultures across time, cannot be sufficiently explained away as anomalous brain chemistry. So there is grounds for faith.

So it seems obvious to me, whose real-life experiences have encompassed both rigorous scientific training AND extraordinary metaphysical experiences, that both "science" and "religion" are true, and that the argument between them verges on psychological hysteria, since it is not totally supported by experience. (Denials are not proofs, as proving a negative is beyond the scope of philosophy.) In fact, there is a great deal of overlap between science and religion, as the new physics suggests, and seems to prove, at least some of the time.

What is in conflict between science and religion is differing sets of cherished assumptions about the nature of causality. But both the fearless scientist and the probing mystic, who keep open minds, who are likewise willing to explore avenues of inquiry thought mad by their peers, who are willing to look past the cherished assumptions, to remove the known filters, and attempt to perceive what's really there—both of these might in the end realize that they are not conflict, but rather in some level of deep agreement.

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7 Comments:

Blogger Jim Murdoch said...

Not all scientists are atheists or agnostics. And any religious person who has any sense will admit that miracles must employ some science that we simply aren’t aware of yet. To the caveman the sun appearing in the morning was a miracle and yet little children these days can explain it even if they can’t do the maths. I’m well aware that an inability to prove something doesn’t automatically disprove it which is why I don’t call myself a believer or a disbeliever in a personal God: I’m not interested in the answer to the question. I only have a passing interest in science. It’s interesting when scientists provide us with the sums to explain why the earth revolves around the sun and why it rotates at a slight angle and why it’s not a perfect sphere – all of that’s interesting – but it doesn’t making living on this not-quite-a-sphere any easier.

1:45 PM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Clarke's Law, as formulated by science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke:

"Any technology so advanced so as to be incomprehensible is indistinguishable from magic."

I suspect your attitude towards science is typical of a lot of average folks: interested, not much more than that.

The problem is when science is mischaracterized as something that it isn't, which is what a lot of the arguments are caused by. The other problem is that even some scientists mischaracterize what science is, by turning it into some quasi-religious thing.

2:33 PM  
Blogger mand said...

You remind me of my friend saying (not to me!): 'I'll explain to you how homeopathy works when you make quantum physics make sense to me.' ;)

I have in recent years been learning that articulating, intellectualising, while a useful strategy isn't solely useful, and understanding non-verbally is just as important. I think a lot of the anti-religion sentiment is based on distrust of the non-verbal, feeling we cannot know any truth from it because it doesn't give us proof in the logical sense. Which doesn't mean I've gone airy-fairy to the detriment of reason. You wouldn't conclude that, Art, but many people need one to be on one side or the other of a question.

And guess what I've just blogged about! http://bit.ly/dunufL

4:46 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

Hi, mand—

I agree, the intellectual explanations are not solely useful. But we live in a culture that is visual-dominant, and left-brain dominant (to oversimplify but to make a point). The triumph of the verbal. The so-called Enlightenment, after the so-called dark ages. The triumph of binary polarized social politics based on ideology. If we don't THINK about it, it's not real. "I think, therefore I am." (Descartes)

So I think your comment is insightful, here. I think the distrust of the non-verbal even invades institutionalized religions, which somehow seem to think that theology needs to be as rigorously logical as philosophy. Whereas Jung writing about religion is more compelling and insightful than whole books of theological reasoning. This isn't to say that Aquinas had nothing to contribute, but the mystics whose experiences were non-verbal contributed at least as much, if not more.

10:25 AM  
Blogger mand said...

I love what you did with my thought. I hadn't really associated the very visual nature of the modern world with the overly verbal nature of many of its relationships and experiences.

Hm.

Most of my recent learning has come from living with a dog. One thing I didn't expect from that was that after I'd learnt Dog, I understand Son much better! From which I conclude some people need more and some people less articulateness.

... Could have sworn there was a word 'articulacy'. Must be past my bedtime. ;)

10:41 AM  
Blogger Art Durkee said...

There have been several studies about learning styles, in school and in life. Education in our visual-dominant culture is also visual-dominant, so children who are kinesthetic learners have a harder time tin school, as do children who are auditory learners. Children are expected to sit and watch the teacher, not fidget (which kinesthetic types need to do), and not repeat out loud what they're reading or have been taught (which aural learners need to do). So we doubly enforce the visual cultural bias with the ways we teach and indoctrinate our kids.

Non-verbal communication is highly underrated, but it ought to be better understood by people, because it affects everything. (Likewise I've written here before about my arguments with poets who believe in the utter supremacy of verbal information channels over all other channels.)

11:18 AM  
Blogger mand said...

Yep, I know. Yep. Yep, don't I know it! Yep. Yep. And, erm... yep. :)

5:03 AM  

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