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Saturday, June 11, 2011
Brain / Mind ... Philosophy ... Science ... Spirituality ...

Stephen Hawking (the crippled world-class physicist) is on a metaphysical tear once again. In a recent interview, he re-asserted the metaphysical viewpoint that there is no God, no heaven, no spirits, no after-life, no karma, nothing AT ALL beyond what the physics books say about reality. He recently told the London Guardian that heaven is “just a fairly story for people who are afraid of the dark”. According to the Hawking view, the known laws of gravity, working in the context of “M Theory”, a super-string based unification of the known basic forces in a fashion consistent with both quantum mechanics and general relativity, allows for creation “ex nihilo” (from nothing). Reality, according to these laws and paradigms, creates all kinds of universes from nothing; just a random throw of the dice. Sooner or later, one comes along that can support sentient and self-conscious life. Nothing terribly special about it all. It just happens.

OK, well first off; M-Theory and superstrings have not yet been verified empirically. But so what, it’s based on a lot of well thought out deductions based on many proven laws, including quantum theory and general relativity and the standard particle model (or a super-symmetric expansion of it, anyway). Einstein’s theories on special and general relativity were likewise untested when announced back in the early 20th century; as scientific techniques and abilities progressed, his ideas were eventually shown to be spot-on. So why shouldn’t M-Theory and superstrings and super-symmetry be taken seriously, pending verification from new tools such as the CERN particle accelerator and a variety of space-probes planned over the next 20 years, including the LISA multi-satellite gravity-wave detection system.

There is a slight tinge of anti-scientific hubris in this attitude, given that science is supposed to be open to surprises until the “field data” reaches a high level of confidence. But OK, Hawking is an extremely smart fellow who devoted his life to this entire stuff, so I wouldn’t bet against him regarding M-Theory. But still, the Judeo-Christian-Islamic idea of creation of the universe (including M-Theory) by God is not so different from Hawking’s brand of M-Theory positivism, in that both ideas satisfy the human need for a final cause. Humans are an animal species that has done very well by desiring an understanding of causes for things that happen to us. No, even more, we desire to understand the cause of WE ourselves. With our highly-programmed brains (programmed by evolutionary dynamics, of course), we discovered that causes often have master-causes behind them. E.g., we can see things because of light, and light is caused by photons and electromagnetic forces. We also use electric motors driven by magnets, whose cause of motion also has to do with photons and electromagnetism.

Eventually those master-causes are found to have super-master-causes behind them. And the super-master-causes are later seen to answer to a super-duper-master cause. And on and on. Where does it stop? The religious people say that it stops with God. Hawking says that it stops with M-Theory. So, you could say that M-Theory is Hawking’s version of God.

OK, but the scientists would object in that M-Theory will eventually have empirical verification meeting the strict standards of science, while God will never gain such verification. The underlying philosophy here is that you should take the scientific method of causes, master causes, super-master causes etc. and stop when you can go no further. God requires a leap of faith; M-Theory hopefully will not. You can still ask, where does M-Theory come from . . . but at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be any way to answer that question, so don’t waste your time with it.

That viewpoint makes sense, in a lot of ways. But IMHO, it still fails to address a deep human need; i.e. the human need to understand not just the causes of things happening around us, but to understand the cause and nature of US. I’m sorry, but that question bothers a lot of people, including myself; and I for one am not helped in that bother by M-Theory. There are problems in living as we know it, i.e. with our mind’s dynamic system of sense-consciousness and self-consciousness, that benefit from a theory of ultimate causation. Thus far, science (especially neuroscience and its bastard brother, psychology) haven’t said much to provide such a benefit, even though their proponents often claim that they do (e.g., philosopher Daniel Dennett’s constant repetition that our conscious experience can be fully understood via a thorough knowledge of how the brain circuits work and how they interact with the world around them). The theory of God DOES provide such benefit, again at least for me.

Perhaps this deep human need that I speak of is the same thing that Hawking dismisses as “fear of the dark”. Sorry, Dr. Hawking, but I do fear the dark – especially the dark horizon of death. Sure, any animal or other kind of machine that has a good track record of survival probably contains a strong programming logic focusing on self preservation, the passing of time, and avoidance of demise. But really now, why does such operating logic require all the angst that we humans experience because of this “fear”? I believe that something deeper and more fundamental is happening in our fear of death.

This angst is something that sets us apart from any other computerized machine with self-preservation programming and awareness of future threats. The flip-side of this angst is a joy of being, what we call “good to be alive”. For some reason, the reality of this “joy of being” emerges in the daily waking life of our species, and doesn’t seem to happen for most other living creatures (with the possible exception of the more brain-developed species). And thus far, none of our machines, however capable of processing information in complex, inter-threaded ways, have shown any sign of this facility either.

We who believe that this “feeling” and this “fear and angst” want to find a cause for it, just as humans wanted to find causes for fire and blizzards and shooting stars. We posit there to be a first cause, a “go no further” cause, just as Dr. Hawking posits M-Theory as the ultimate cause for fire and blizzards and shooting stars. Our ultimate cause for the deepest joy and fear and angst behind our everyday conscious awareness logically must have something to do with the nature of that joy and fear and angst, with the ability to feel the sweet and fearful experience of “being”. Yes, we posit that our deepest conscious experiences are subsumed in the nature of this ultimate cause. At our best, this joy of being propels us to want to share that joy with other beings; we call this “love”. We think that this ultimate cause is similarly propelled by a need to share the joy of being.

Ah, but Drs. Hawking and Dennett would say, where is your “ultimate cause” at the hour of your death? They claim that M-Theory its various sideshows, including quantum randomness and thermodynamic decay (entropy) hold victorious over this “goodness of being”, showing it to be but an illusion, a psychological epi-phenomenon at best. For if there was an ultimate sharer of conscious being, why would it let that being end? Is that hypothetical being weaker than the “god of time”? OK, doctors, good point. But, then again, why should I accept your premise that death is the ending of conscious being? Oh, you say, because no trace of such trans-physical, after-death being has ever testified to the living on the continuation of consciousness after death.

Yes, quite true. But then again, nothing has testified that such being does NOT exist. With much opprobrium, the good doctors would tell me that I’m positing purple elephants that don’t reflect light and don’t have mass and don’t mess with gravity or energy. I’m making up a ‘fairy tale’ that by definition CANNOT be proven or disproven because it cannot in any way be experienced. But doctors, I experience conscious life most every day. I experience Dr. Hawking’s “fear”, the existential joy and associated angst of conscious being, most every waking moment. I EXPERIENCE music, I EXPERIENCE beauty, I EXPERINECE ugliness and fear and love, in addition to processing the data behind these experiences. Your science cannot explain the ultimate cause and nature of those EXPERIENCES. So, according to your rules, they don’t exist, just as my ‘fairy tale’ God does not exist.

As to the existence of a God who loves conscious being so much that our own conscious being will be extended beyond the temporary “platform” of the physical universe (so well described by M-Theory), a God who will break it from the bonds of time-dimensionality and write it into God’s eternity . . . well, I’d like to make a bet with Dr. Hawking in that regard! See you on the other side, Dr. Hawking. As Blaise Pascal, your fellow philosopher and scientist from the 18th Century, said – what is there to lose by betting on God?

◊   posted by Jim G @ 4:31 pm      
 
 


  1. Jim, Good argument vis-a-vis Hawking. May I add my 2 cents? I find myself wondering, following Hawking’s own argument, that if M Theory posits the creation “ex nihilo” of “all kinds of universes” then why couldn’t M Theory also be responsible for a universe where consciousness “goes” after the death of the body or a universe where consciousness exists without a body? I think Hawking might be right in one sense: That the *body* will end as nothing at all; but that says nothing of the consciousness aspect of the human–even of other animals. What happens to the consciousness of other animals besides man? Does that end? Or does it continue in some way? What about the consciousness of plantss even? There must be some “tinge” of consciousness as plants turn toward the sun, climbing plants “reach” for something to grab on to (one can actually “see” the plant “reaching”), etc. I find myself also wondering about the consciousness of earth itself. But maybe I’m too far afield here; so I’ll leave it at consciousness in man.

    Then too, I find myself wondering if Stephen Hawking understands much if anything about the spiritual. It may be that his only “thing” is what he has studied–physics. Some understanding of the spiritual–from a experiential standpoint, not just a theoretical standpoint–might be a useful to him.

    And, of course, I’m back to my usual tho’t: I tend to think that the physicists bring into being these worlds that they start looking for. If I understand their theories right, the observer influences the observed. Therefore, if one starts looking for some world (or anything else), eventually, he/she will find it, bring it into being in their own world. Thus, I wonder if their problem with consciousness or anything spiritual and/or intangible might not be that they are not looking for it, thus they do not find it.

    And lastly, I can’t help but notice that Hawking seems to have a pretty good opinion of himself, bordering on hubris. Right there may be the problem. A little “humility” (is that the word?) or maybe even just a little consideration that he might not have all the answer could go a long way in his understanding of something beyond his own ideas. MCS

    Comment by Mary S. — June 12, 2011 @ 10:26 am

  2. I do believe that science helps us understand the world around us; it shows us how amazing the universe s. However, I fail to see how science, by its own laws, can disprove creationism. Whether it is gravity, a string of empty multiverses where a particle randomly appears or a singularity that eventually expands to create everything, these things are still something and science declares that you cannot get something out of nothing. It is just as asinine to say “we have found what created the universe, we cannot measure it, see it or test it in anyway but it exists” and then tell religious people that saying that about a creator is ludacris is contradictory within itself.

    [Brent — thanks for some good commentary. I may not agree that God created the Earth in so direct a fashion as the Book of Genesis would imagine; but at some point in the chain of events, yes, I do believe there is intellectual room for an “unmoved mover”, one that shares our yet-mysterious gift of conscious experience.

    But one little point regarding your comment. This may be a bit uncharitable on my part, but I couldn’t resist . . . ludacris is Christopher Bridges the rapper. Despite the power of popular culture, the proper word is still “ludicrous”.]

    Comment by Brent — September 17, 2012 @ 3:50 am

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