Class Warfare Blog

June 21, 2018

Will Science Ever Solve the Mysteries of Consciousness, Free Will, and God?

The above title is that of an article in Scientific American (July 2018) by no one less than the inestimable Michael Shermer. The subtitle is “Are consciousness, free will and God insoluble mysteries?”

Even more fascinating is Mr. Schermer’s answer: yes!

Actually, this answer is quite puzzling. In his piece Mr. Shermer quotes British biologist and Nobel laureate Sir Peter Medawar who wrote: “Good scientists study the most important problems they think they can solve. It is, after all, their professional business to solve problems, not merely to grapple with them.” This, I think is correct. The scientific ego is boosted by actual results and so scientists shy away from problems deemed intractable, unsolvable. But, until one tries to solve a problem, how does one know whether it is beyond them? And, even if it is beyond us now, how can we know it will be beyond us forever?

I am of the camp that we will understand all three and, in fact, have good starts on all three questions. The problem is not the issues themselves completely (labeled as “final mysteries” by Shermer), but involves the attitudes of the audiences receiving the conclusions.

For example, if you came up with an ironclad proof that the Christian/Jewish/Muslim god did not exist, how many people would say “Well, dang, and all along I though God was real. Foolish of me, don’t you think?” And how many would say “I don’t not believe such secular nonsense!” (Go ahead, guess; I dare you!)

The audience here has a different standard of proof than scientists have. If you accept something as proven only when it reaches the standard of a mathematical proof, no scientific proofs could be had at all, but if you establish the level of proof to be as good as “the sun will come up tomorrow,” then the Christian, etc. god is proven to not exist already (in short, the claimed supernatural powers are in conflict with one another). This level of proof is good enough for scientists who use no divine mysteries in their works, even though they may still participate in their local church communities (which may have absolutely nothing to do with the existence of any god or gods).

Similarly, the general public will never accept the idea of a deterministic universe as they feel, that is feel in the first person, that they are “free” to make their own decisions. The idea that we are not free to do just that undermines all religions, social justice structures, etc. so do not expect the general public to accept that there is no such thing as free will. (I do not accept the deterministic arguments at this juncture as there are any number of problems with the current deterministic interpretations, including a signal-to-noise problem of immense size.)

It is rare that I find myself in disagreement with Michael Shermer, but one of the rock bottom principles in science is that authority has no place. So, in this case, our opinions differ.

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12 Comments »

  1. Wow! Most definitely will check this out further Steve. I’ve always enjoyed Shermer. Thank you for this post.

    Like

    Comment by Professor Taboo — June 21, 2018 @ 11:23 am | Reply

    • Yeah, I was rather shocked that he would take an “Oooh, too hard!” position on these questions. maybe he is spoofing us.

      ;o)

      On Thu, Jun 21, 2018 at 11:23 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

      >

      Liked by 1 person

      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 21, 2018 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  2. I am not understanding the final two paragraphs. Is it your contention that free-will does not exist but the deterministic arguments are currently unacceptable as well?

    Like

    Comment by John Branyan — June 21, 2018 @ 4:26 pm | Reply

  3. Nope, I argue that free will appears to exist and that deterministic arguments are not yet conclusive. I really don’t think we are at a point at which we can reach a conclusion. The topic has been discussed for thousands of years but only philosophically and you can’t prove anything philosophically.

    Liked by 1 person

    Comment by Steve Ruis — June 22, 2018 @ 10:49 am | Reply

    • Thank you. I understand.
      I agree that we can’t “prove” anything philosophically, depending on how you define “prove”. But everything, other than math, is eventually going to employ some philosophy. I think we’re kind of stuck with it…

      Like

      Comment by John Branyan — June 23, 2018 @ 10:58 am | Reply

      • Only in the sense that we understand its strengths and weakness. I am a philosophy buff (minored in college in it) … and I understand that an argument is just that an argument. One can be convinced by an argument of something but that doesn’t constitute proof.

        You are spot on about have degrees to which we think things are proven (a common concept in the law, for example). For scientific things if something is as certain as “the sun will come up tomorrow” I find that to be trustworthy enough to count on it.

        On Sat, Jun 23, 2018 at 10:58 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

        >

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        Comment by Steve Ruis — June 23, 2018 @ 11:04 am | Reply

        • I’m a sort of philosophy buff myself. It seems like we often get tangled up arguing about “certainty” and “proof”. I can’t say for “certain” that my senses are giving me the truth. Neither am I able to “prove” any conscious (or unconscious) experience.

          I agree that the sun coming up is pretty reliable. It would make life difficult if we couldn’t count on it. I think we both know people who would say that just because the sun came up today, that doesn’t guarantee it will come up tomorrow. While they’re technically correct, that level of skepticism isn’t helpful for rational conversations.

          Like

          Comment by John Branyan — June 23, 2018 @ 11:25 am | Reply

          • Yep, i CAN NAME A NUMBER OF SCENARIOS THAT RESULT IN THE SUN NOT COMING UP BUT THE LIKELIHOOD OF ANY OF THOSE IS VANISHINGLY SmaLL. (Effing cap lock key!)

            On Sat, Jun 23, 2018 at 11:25 AM, Class Warfare Blog wrote:

            >

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            Comment by Steve Ruis — June 23, 2018 @ 11:56 am | Reply

  4. Interesting how closely these three mysteries are related.

    God is an answer the question of why is there something rather than nothing.

    Consciousness is what allows us to recognize there is something.

    Free will is either an illusion or fact produced by consciousness.

    Like

    Comment by James Cross — June 23, 2018 @ 6:39 am | Reply

    • Think of all of the bliss that would be created if we were to be relieved of the burden of consciousness! Oh, that’s what politics is for, I guess.

      Like

      Comment by Steve Ruis — June 23, 2018 @ 8:01 am | Reply

  5. […] Ruis in a post at Class Warfare Blog has brought to my attention an article, Will Science Ever Solve the […]

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    Pingback by Question Marks and Hard Problems | Broad Speculations — June 29, 2018 @ 5:10 pm | Reply


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