Posts Tagged ‘matter’

As we all know, the scientific way of seeing the world has brought immeasurable benefits to all mankind ; so many benefits, in fact, that many decent people cannot bring themselves to see the world in any other way.  They just know that the only realities are those which arrive to us through our physical senses.  If a thing may be seen, touched, heard, tasted or smelt then it is real ; if not, then it is fantasy.

The principle that underlies this way of living is the very respectable m.k.s. system.  The m.k.s. stands for metres, kilogrammes and seconds, which are the standard units of length, mass and duration – the very bedrock of good science.

Once upon a time, when people were generally better educated than they are today, it was understood that this way of seeing the world was intended to provide a very specialised form of knowledge – scientific knowledge.  Such knowledge was never intended to provide a comprehensive understanding of the Universe and all the things in it.  A scientist’s specialised way of understanding the world was no different, in principle, from a carpenter’s specialised way of seeing the world ; or a plumber’s, or a farmer’s, or a train-spotter’s.

But, with generally falling standards of education, a truly extraordinary state of affairs has arisen.  It is now seriously proposed that, if a thing can be measured, weighed and timed, then it is real.  And many people of a scientific disposition now say that, if a thing cannot be measured, weighed and timed, then it is illusory ; and they add that anyone who believes otherwise is either mad or evil.

Mr Gradgrind would have thoroughly approved of all this, of course – before his daughter, Louisa, through her sufferings and by God’s grace, came to his rescue.  If he were alive today, he would be ashamed.

One of the sadnesses that arises out of today’s scientific outlook is that its more zealous believers are now quite incapable of seeing in any other way.  For them, life has lost its meaning ; in place of life, they have mere existence.  But there is hope, even yet ; for a few of them are asking, “Why is our civilisation in decline?”  In decline at the very time we should expect it to be entering a new phase of development.


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Are we ready to become aware of ourselves?

I have been fascinated with the material world for as long as I can remember.  It isn’t true that young children take the world for granted ; some at least do ponder on the origins of things and their destinies.  But there was one thing that I did for long take for granted – my consciousness ; in fact, when I was very young, I did not even think of consciousness.

But what is consciousness?  It is one of those things that is not revealed to us through the senses.  Rather it is our consciousness that informs us that we have senses.

We have a difficulty in describing what consciousness is without using metaphors.  For example, some psychologists have described it as a screen on which our world is projected.  But a screen is a material thing, while consciousness is not ; and so it is a potentially misleading linguistic device, for people have a habit of treating metaphors as if they were literal descriptions.

So consciousness is not a material thing, not detectable by the senses.  And what, therefore, is its proper classification?  It must surely be spiritual ; i.e., a known real thing which is not detectable by the senses.  And it is a thing which has the thoughts of psychologists tied in knots as they ponder it.

We are in the habit of asking, “Where does a thing come from?”  We are fascinated by origins.  But where does consciousness come from?  The current orthodoxy in psychology says that it is an ’emergent property’ of the brain.  According to this hypothesis, the complexity of the brain somehow causes consciousness to arise from it.  But still nobody knows how this occurs and nobody is any wiser as to what consciousness is.

But then the idea arises, “Why should it be matter that gives rise to consciousness?”  For isn’t it at least equally likely that it is consciousness that gives rise to matter?

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I am not sure why, but from an early age I have been curious about psychology – from even that time before I knew the word psychology.  Of course, each of us is an individual, but what really interests psychologists is those things we have in common.  Like it or not, there’s more to humanity than just individuals – there are types of individual.

I was thinking about this as I remembered a conversation that I shared some longish time ago.  It was one of those turning points in my life.  It’s a marvel how our lives are shaped by little things.  Or are they little?  Judge for yourself.

Thoughts which take strong materialist line have a funny way of turning out.  For example, it you say to a certan kind of physicist, “I see the light coming from that searchlight,” you are likely to find yourself drawn into a strange dialogue.  For the physicist, putting his authoritative scientific hat on, is bound to respond with, “No you don’t.”

“But I can see it!” you cry.
“It is important for you to remember that what you call light is, in fact, electromagnetic radiation.  It is a field of electricity and magnetism, both of which are invisible,”  he announces with an air of finality.
You overcome your diffidence in the face of such authority to venture, “Then what is that beam of light I see shining away from us up into the sky?”
“That is not a beam of light,” he replies with a hint of impatience.  “What is happening is that some of the invisible radiation is reflected off the particles of dust and moisture in the air.  This reflected radiation then enters your eyes, and your mistaken response is to say that you see light in the sky.  What you really mean to say is that the radiation has caused your brain to produce light in your conscious awareness.”

“So how can you prove that no light is coming from the searchlight,” you dare to ask.
“That’s easy,” he says.  “We could do an experiment. We could, of course fly to the Moon, where there is no atmosphere and no dust.  You would find there that, if you shone the searchlight slightly away from you, then you would see no beam of light coming from it, because there is no dust or moisture to reflect the radiation back into your eyes.”
“Thus demonstrating that the radiation itself is perfectly invisible?”
“Yes, quite.”

“So, generally speaking,” the physicist continues, “There is no light at all in the world around you.  It is all in your head.  Light is a phenomenon of psychology, not physics.”

Now I know it comes a surprise to many materialists that their doctrines lead to such a conclusion ; their instinct is first to deny it and then to find a way round it.  By extending the above experiment, it can be shown that the world around us has no colour, no sounds, no scents, no flavours and even no solidity of touch.  And there is no such thing as beauty either.  All such things are psychological, all experienced in consciousness and nowhere else.

It also comes as a surprise to many materialists that our ancestors certainly gave much thought to the appalling consequences of materialism.  A dark, drear, colourless, utterly neutral world of nature gave them no comfort at all.  And it went against their direct empirical experiences of living.

So, they came up with answers.  And, just to tease a little … you will find the OT fascinating.  😉

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The great Oracle at Delphi once told a young Athenian that Socrates was the wisest man in the world.  When the youth asked Socrates why this was, he replied, “I suppose it is because I know nothing, but I do have opinions on many things!”

We can see that Socrates was using the word knowledge in a special way here ; what he meant was that he had no certain knowledge of anything ; he did not know reality.  This kind of humility was thereafter a persistent character of most of the writings of learned people right through antiquity and up to the modern age.

Then something new happened.  First, we discovered (or invented perhaps) powerful mathematics ; then we invented what we now call the scientific method.  The mathematics enabled us to make statements about the material world that were more or less precise and in a way that had hardly been attempted previously, and the second enabled us to investigate the material world in a highly particular systematic way.

To begin with, these two aids to investigation allowed us to produce a vast amount of information about the world ; and then allowed us to use that information to manufacture new powerful technology – including the technology to make more powerful means of studying the world more closely.  By the end of the nineteenth century, we had a veritable explosion of information in physics and in its technological fruits.  It is hardly surprising, therefore, that scientists of every stripe were eager to emulate the methods of the physicists

Now there was nothing wrong with this emulation and there still isn’t anything wrong with it as long as we remember that the methods of physics are directed at the material world ; particularly at the non-living world.

But man is a forgetful creature ; also much given to speculation, and easily deceived by appearances.  Thus it was that he forgot the original purpose of physics and the scientific method, and it was this forgetting that turned initial successes into a disaster.  For he began to see living things in purely physical concepts ; and, from there began to perceive living things as machines.  Biological machines.  Perhaps this new way of seeing things was epitomised by an enthusiastic late eighteenth century stock breeder ; he asked, “What is a sheep but a machine for turning grass into meat?”  Few people then imagined that Man would be characterised as a machine that happens to turn shepherd’s pie into thoughts.

But that is where we are today.  Man is a machine which is governed entirely and exclusively by the laws of physics.  Gone is the mind, gone is the psyche, gone free-will, gone is personal responsibility ; banished is the soul and the spirit together.  We are simply machines, assemblies of particles, at the mercy of our material environment (however you might try to dress it up in the exciting tales from quantum mechanics!).

But there is hope.  Physics as it is done today has almost exhausted itself grappling with the myths of the sub-particular world ; and, having led their colleagues astray, it will be the physicists who start breaking out of the prison they have made for us all.  This repentance began about a century ago with such luminaries as Rutherford and Planck, who sounded the warnings and offered the keys of the prison.

Was it not Rutherford who said, “Whether we like it or not, we live in a spiritual world.”  And was it not Planck who said, “Consciousness is everything.  Matter is derived from consciousness.”

But did their colleagues listen?  No.  For the physical sciences are easy to do ; no great wisdom is required.  And they are profitable ; research grants are readily forthcoming, if only for the sake of the saleable technology.

On the other hand, a science of humanity takes the harder road ; the road trodden by Socrates and most of his successors ; the road of modesty.

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Bless my soul

Even a short while ago, people spoke without embarrassment or affectation about their souls.  Some remnants of their speech survive in expressions that are still quite common : Bless my soul : there wasn’t a soul to be seen : soul music : the soul of *****, and so on.  But, to what extent is the soul still believed in?  To what extent do we nowadays believe that there is a part of us that is not a material thing but a spiritual one?  A non-material entity ; the opposite, as it were, to the material body.  There are lots of ways of putting it without getting too technical.

When we say something like, “I have arms,”  we must ask, Who is this “I” who possesses the arms?  Or, when we say, “He has strong feelings,” we must ask, Who is this “he” who possesses the feelings?  do we refer merely to the body?  or to something else which is the essential person?

When we use those remnants of the older speech, such as Bless my soul, are we using the word soul with its original meaning?  or as a metaphor which simply means the body?  These are important questions, for the answers will have momentous practical consequences for all of us.

If we use the word soul to indicate some property or quality we possess that is not a material thing, then we open the possibility that there is a part of us that will never die.  On the other hand, if we are purely material beings, then we are no more than perishable machines.  And biological machines are, in principle, no different from the kinds of machines that we manufacture – cars, aeroplanes, and so on.

And, if we are just machines, is there any reason why we ought to value ourselves any more than we value any other animal? – or any car or aeroplane?

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There are some peculiarities of the world that we are familiar with.  For example, we know that if a large boulder crashes to the ground, in a place uninhabited by any living thing, then no sound will be produced as a result.  All will be silent because the crashing boulder produces only waves of vibrations in the air ; for there to be sound, there has to be a person** present to hear it.  For sound is a psychological thing ; it what our consciousness presents to us in response to vibrations entering the ears.

So the rock and its vibrations are mechanical things ; but the sound is not at all mechanical ; it is what the human mind makes of the mechanics.

And then we have other peculiarities.  We commonly say that the lonely rock has colour.  But the scientists says otherwise.  The physicist will say that the rock merely reflects electromagnetic radiation from its surface ; and radiation has no colour.  The colour is presented to us in consciousness as a response to the radiation.

So there we have it : the lonely rock crashing in the desert is completely inaudible and invisible, too.  We can go through all the rock’s physical properties, and we will discover that it has none at all – unless a human being is present to witness them.

All this raises important questions : How much of the world exists independently of us?  And how much of the world is of our own making?  Also, what are we to make of the ancient world that we assume was there before we came along?

Was the physicist, Max Planck, correct when he stated that matter is derived from consciousness?

** There is more to be said about other creatures and their senses and their consciousness.

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To those who have been blessed with the ability to see them, the waves and particles that the physicists talk about must seem like things poles apart.  The wave must seem to be the very opposite of a particle.  And yet, I have heard people say that the one is convertible to the other.

It’s odd how the human mind goes round in circles (or is it spirals?) always returning to the same fundamental ideas.  Or is it odd?  Perhaps we return to those fundamental ideas, not as a result of some quirkiness in the human brain, but because they happen to be true.

It is said that the human body is made of atoms, and even smaller things.  But, since these entities are not known through our senses, can it be said that they are truly material?  Since they are known only through our reason, all we know of them are cognitive models ; in other words, they are psychical things ; spiritual things.

If that is so, then the body is better described as the physical expression of the spirit.  It is as if body and spirit are two poles – not separate entities – of which one is representative of the other ; and, as such, they are inseparable except in thought.

They say the world is made of things opposed ;
Of polarities must all that is be.
No other kind of world that one might see
Suggests itself to reason, or be posed
As being true to nature and to law.

Jamie MacNab

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