Science & Spirit

Science faces two daunting frontiers: cosmology, the study of the origin of the universe, and the study of consciousness. In these two disciplines, we find the greatest mysteries that remain to be solved.

From the point of view of the philosophy of Idealism, these two disciplines are linked. In order to fully understand cosmology, we will need to fully understand consciousness. Solutions to the mystery of our origins and the mystery of consciousness are linked.


Consciousness Studies

Although the study of consciousness (within the scientific community) is in its infancy, the reader may wish to become acquainted with the current literature.

Evan Harris Walker’s The Physics of Consciousness does not prematurely close the door on the spirit-body dualism.

Though the similarities to religious ideas are only slight (at least at this point in our story), what we have in the quantum mechanical picture is closer to a conception of a soul-like consciousness inhabiting and animating the machine. (I didn’t start out with this as a goal; it is just the idea that seems to work best at present.) The classical machine cannot have consciousness, and it cannot have any identity of its own. It is we, of course, who anthropomorphically imbue the collection of mechanical parts with its machine identity. But there is a transformation that takes place with the onset of consciousness.

We have searched back to the beginning of time and to the origin of the universe to find the first thought, the first word of God springing into existence as consciousness and physical matter. Consciousness, will, mind—these were the first moment, the potentialities that continue to this day. Our consciousness, our mind, and the will of God are the same mind.”

On the opposite end of the spectrum, in Consciousness Explained, philosopher Daniel Dennett takes a swing at the problem.

Dennett resembles the great Casey at bat, unleashing powerful swings only to go down swinging. There is no joy in Mudville and there is no material explanation for consciousness. His failure to arrive at a material explanation for consciousness, however, is important, it clears the way for a dualistic model.

This fundamentally antiscientific stance of dualism is, to my mind, its most disqualifying feature, and that is the reason why in this book I adopt the apparently dogmatic rule that dualism is to be avoided at all costs. It is not that I think I can give a knock-down proof that dualism, in all its forms, is false or incoherent, but that, given the way dualism wallows in mystery, accepting dualism is giving up.

Scientists and philosophers may have achieved a consensus of sort in favor of materialism, but as we shall see, getting rid of the old dualistic visions is harder than contemporary materialists have thought.”

Dan Lloyd, author of Radiant Cool: A Novel of Theory and Consciousness, also discoveres establishing a material ground to consciousness proves harder than assumed.

Radiant Cool has two distinct sections: the first is a novel. The second is a nonfiction account of consciousness studies, primarily from the point of view of a phenomenologist. Lloyd’s lively storytelling makes the read a pleasure.

Yet, for all that progress and promise, when the target of explanation shifts to human consciousness, the many tools available seem not quite to fit the job. On consciousness, not only is the work unfinished, it is not even off the drawing board, despite the many hands that tinker with it. Some who survey the worksite are skeptical about the prospects for any scientific theory of consciousness; several philosophers (and even a few neuroscientists) argue on diverse grounds that in principle science-as-we-know-it will never achieve the complete explanation of consciousness…”

Destructive Emotions: A Scientific Dialogue with the Dalai Lama explores the intersection between Buddhism and consciousness studies. Buddhism, with its ancient tradition of the empirical exploration of consciousness, is contrasted with Western concepts.

‘How from the Buddhist point of view,’ he (Matthieu Ricard) continued, ‘does one distinguish between constructive and destructive emotions? Fundamentally, a destructive emotion—which is also referred to as an ‘obscuring’ or ‘afflictive’ mental factor—is something that prevents the mind from ascertaining reality as it is. With a destructive emotion, there will always be a gap between the way things appear and the way things are.’”

Physicist Roger Penrose attempts to understand consciousness in Shadows of the Mind: A Search for the Missing Science of Consciousness.

Penrose is derailed by materialist bias and pulls up short, scratching his head. He realizes consciousness is not equivalent to computation—an important insight from which new attempts to understand consciousness can emerge.

It will be an important feature of my later discussions that there is indeed a clear-cut distinction between genuine intelligence (or genuine understanding ) and any entirely computationally simulated activity. …It will be one of my purposes, in later arguments, to show that there is indeed an aspect of ‘genuine understanding’ that cannot be properly simulated in any computational way whatever.”

Gary Schwartz’s The Afterlife Experiments: Breakthrough Scientific Evidence of Life After Death addresses survival of consciousness. Evidence that consciousness survives body death should change the focus of consciousness studies—unless it continues to be ignored.

The Holographic Universe by Michael Talbot presents speculative views regarding consciousness and the mystical or spiritual.

In a wide-ranging speculation (physicist William) Tiller even suggests that the universe itself started as a subtle energy field and gradually became dense and material through a similar ratchet effect. As he sees it, it may be that God created the universe as a divine pattern or idea. Like the image a psychic sees floating in the human energy field, this divine pattern functioned as a template, influencing and molding increasingly less subtle levels of the cosmic energy field ‘on down the line via a series of holograms’ until it eventually coalesced into a hologram of a physical universe.”


Cosmology

The metaphysical question of “First Cause” overlaps the scientific question of the origin of the physical universe.

Most physicists tackling cosmic origins postulate a purely naturalistic or material origin. A naturalistic Big Bang event is postulated.

One problem with the naturalistic model is that a universe that starts from nothing starts in a state absent all material conditions.

Thus, the origin of a material universe from nothing cannot have a material explanation—as there are no material conditions in the nothing or void to provide such an origin.

All materialistic theories must thus postulate an eternal universe that has no beginning.

If one postulates a Big Bang event arising out of nothing, the origin must take place in the absence of material or natural conditions. This requires a non-material origin—in other words a supernatural origin.

Those who hold religious views believe the universe had a supernatural origin. There was nothing (an absence of material conditions), then there was something. The pre-existing cause that gave birth to material conditions was itself supernatural—or beyond the material.

Idealism is the only philosophy which can account for this nothing-to- something transition. Idealism argues material conditions are thought projections of immaterial beings.

Vic Stenger’s Has Science Found God? attempts to explain a material origin, but falls apart as his solution simply redefines the void as not-really-a-void. Essentially he cheats, using a nothing that is not really a nothing. It avoids the problem of the origin of the not-really-a-void.


Cosmology Resources

None of the following books are recommended as accurate; all miss the mark. Yet they are valuable references for readers interested in jumping into discussions on cosmic origins.

They are listed in the order in which I pulled them off my bookshelf: