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The Fundamental Question

At his blog Santi Tafarella, a self-avowed agnostic, asks some interesting questions, no?

 “How do you know that matter precedes mind at the beginning?  That would make contingent matter either eternal or self created, right?  How can that be?  Why, at the beginning, is self existent matter any less mysterious (ontologically) than self existent mind?  . . . I find material existence absent mind as ontologically absurd and baffling as mind absent material existence.  It’s why I’m an agnostic.”

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20 Responses to The Fundamental Question

  1. Resolving the question philosophically is difficult.

    Several physcists have argue MIND must precede matter. They argue that such a hypothesis is a straightforward deduction of physics. See: Quantum Enigma of Consciousness and the Identity of the Designer

  2. We don’t know what “preceded” the matter and energy that comprises our physical universe, or even what the word “preceded” might mean in this case. But it is certainly not the case that the only two possibilities (other than mind creating matter) are that “contingent matter [is] either eternal or self created.”

    I also see no reason at all to think that that “existence absent mind [is] ontologically absurd and baffling. In my experience, (in all of our experiences), mind appears as a local phenomena associated with living things which are made of matter, but matter and energy comprise the whole universe and have been here vastly longer than the phenomena we call mind, as far as we know. I have no problem with mind, as a property of living things, arising from a material universe.

  3. From the prologue of a classic peer-reviewed stealth ID book highlighted in the prestigious scientific journal Nature:

    1.1 Prologue
    What is Man, that Thou art mindful of him?

    Psalm 8:4

    The central problem of science and epistemology is deciding which
    postulates to take as fundamental. The perennial solution of the great idealistic philosophers has been to regard Mind as logically prior, and even materialistic philosophers consider the innate properties of matter to be such as to allow–or even require–the existence of intelligence to contemplate it; that is, these properties are necessary or sufficient for life.

    Thus the existence of Mind is taken as one of the basic postulates of a
    philosophical system.
    Physicists, on the other hand, are loath to admit any consideration of Mind into their theories. Even quantum mechanics, which supposedly brought the observer into physics, makes no use of intellectual properties; a photographic plate would serve equally well as
    an ‘observer’. But, during the past fifteen years there has grown up
    amongst cosmologists an interest in a collection of ideas, known as the
    Anthropic Cosmological Principle, which offer a means of relating Mind and observership directly to the phenomena traditionally within the encompass of physical science.

    John Barrow

    Barrow points out the well known problem for a pure mind-independent materialism, namely that it doesn’t lead to a consistent philosophical system. Haldane articulated in Why I am a Materialist the problem confronting materialism:

    Nor did I see how, on a materialist basis, knowledge or thought was possible. The light which reaches my eyes causes nervous impulses in about half-a-million fibres running to my brain, and there gives rise to sensation. But how can the sensation be anything like a reality composed of atoms! And, even if it is so, what guarantee have I that my thoughts are logical! They depend on physical and chemical processes going on in my brain, and doubtless obey physical and chemical laws, if materialism is true. So I was compelled, rather reluctantly, to fall back on some kind of idealistic explanation, according to which mind (or something like mind) was prior to matter, and what we call matter was really of the nature of mind, or at least of sensation. I was, however, too painfully conscious of the weakness in every idealistic philosophy to embrace any of them, and I was quite aware that in practice I often acted as a materialist.

    Haldane doesn’t give an adequate philosophical response to the problem of philosophical consistency of materialism, but appeals to practicality instead.

    Barrow proceeds to argue from pure physical law that the philosophically consistent position of Mind preceding matter is supported by physical law as well, thus he argues, on science and philosophy that mind precedes matter. Thus, there is less reason to remain agnostic.

  4. Hmmm. In general I would rather discuss with people themselves rather than with quoted material from people who are not available to discuss, but I’ll respond anyway:

    I don’t know how consciousness arises, and I don’t think anyone else does either. Given that more and more evidence ties states of consciousness to physical states of the brain, as well as given other considerations, I don’t see the mystery of consciousness to be a reason to make a) the very large jump to believing that mind contains some non-material property, and b) the much larger jump to believing that some non-material mind existed and created the material universe.

    Barrow mentions that “Haldane doesn’t give an adequate philosophical response to the problem of philosophical consistency of materialism.” A dualistic mind/matter philosophy also has some consistency problems, one of which is how does the non-material interact with the material. I believe there are enough unknowns, and that we are limited in our perspective enough, that no meaningful philosophy would be acknowledged as consistent by both it proponents and its detractors.

  5. Does anyone else find it hilarious that no matter how much any of us argue and try to prove God exists, that it comes down to Faith, just like He says it will!?!

    God bless you all for trying.

  6. To bring forward some notes from yesterday on your other thread Barry, A materialist was trying to maintain, on your previous thread, that there was nothing strange to note in the Double Slit Experiment that required a consciousness. Kind of like this “nothing to see here” scene:

    Nothing to see here – video
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rSjK2Oqrgic

    And though I had other evidence that gives clear indication of consciousness preceding matter, I dug around and found this:

    This following experiment highlights the centrality of consciousness in the Double Slit Experiment as to the wave collapse and refutes any “detector centered” arguments for wave collapse:

    Delayed choice quantum eraser
    http://onemorebrown.wordpress......um-eraser/

    of note; Consciousness must be INFORMED with local certainty to cause the wave to become a particle. We know from the Double Slit Experiment, with delayed erasure, that the simple fact of a detector being present is NOT sufficient to explain the wave collapse. If the detector results are erased after detection but before conscious analysis we see the wave form result instead of the particle result. This clearly establishes the centrality of consciousness to the whole experiment. i.e. The clear implication from the experiment is that consciousness is primary, and detection secondary, to the collapse of the wave function. Conscousness must precede 3-Dimensional material reality.

    As well the materialist I was debating tried to maintain that “oxygen use” proved the brains primacy of the mind; Yet when I looked at that evidence I found:

    Appraising the brain’s energy budget:
    Excerpt: In the average adult human, the brain represents about 2% of the body weight. Remarkably, despite its relatively small size, the brain accounts for about 20% of the oxygen and, hence, calories consumed by the body. This high rate of metabolism is remarkably constant despite widely varying mental and motoric activity. The metabolic activity of the brain is remarkably constant over time.
    http://www.pnas.org/content/99/16/10237.full

    THE EFFECT OF MENTAL ARITHMETIC ON CEREBRAL CIRCULATION AND METABOLISM
    Excerpt: Although Lennox considered the performance of mental arithmetic as “mental work”, it is not immediately apparent what the nature of that work in the physical sense might be if, indeed, there be any. If no work or energy transformation is involved in the process of thought, then it is not surprising that cerebral oxygen consumption is unaltered during mental arithmetic.
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pm.....4-0127.pdf

    If mind were merely a “secretion” of the material brain should not this material basis of our “true being” manifest itself with increased oxygen use for increased mental activity? Why in the world should the oxygen use remain “remarkably constant” in the brain despite widely divergent mental activities? The evidence clearly indicates strong support for a “mind” that is separate from the material brain.

    further notes from yesterday:

    The Mind and Materialist Superstition
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....super.html

    Miracle Of Mind-Brain Recovery Following Hemispherectomies – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994585

    Removing Half of Brain (Hemispherectomies) Improves Young Epileptics’ Lives – article
    Excerpt: “We are awed by the apparent retention of the child’s memory after removal of half of the brain, either half; and by the retention of the child’s personality and sense of humor.” Dr. Eileen P. G. Vining of Johns Hopkins University

    Amazing Scientific Evidence That Mind Effects Matter – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/4198007

    Blind Woman Can See During Near Death Experience – video
    http://www.metacafe.com/watch/3994599

    and of course, a materialist must also explain the 3-D centrality we find for the earth in this universe in this following video, from radically different points of observation in the universe, by just using the 4-D expanding space-time of general relativity, without recourse to the centrality we find for consciousness in the double slit: It is an impossible task.

    The Known Universe – Dec. 2009 – very cool video – please note the centrality of the earth
    http://www.youtube.com/v/17jymDn0W6U

    “It was not possible to formulate the laws (of quantum theory) in a fully consistent way without reference to consciousness.” Eugene Wigner (1902 -1995) laid the foundation for the theory of symmetries in quantum mechanics, for which he received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963

    And of course the materialist, I was debating yesterday, maintained that Wigner was just plain wrong in his reference to the centrality of consciousness for Qauntum Mechanics (QM), even though he had won a Nobel for his work in elucidating the symmetries found by centering on consciousness in QM. ,,,, Oh well,,,Move Along,,,Nothing to see here,,,

  7. Does anyone else find it hilarious that no matter how much any of us argue and try to prove God exists, that it comes down to Faith, just like He says it will!?!

    No. And it does not all just boil down to faith.

    I could believe I have 100 billion dollars in the bank. That’s would be a ridiculous belief. Perhaps the same would go for belief in the pagan deities.

    Mohamed Atta of the 911 terror attacks and his friends have lots of faith. Is that faith reasonable?

    It doesn’t boil down to just faith, but which faith is more reasonable circumstantially speaking.

    Faith comes about because God reaches out to us and makes belief in Him possible. True faith is not by act of human reason, but of grace.

    Science is a gift of God which makes faith for some individuals reasonable and possible. I personally believe that if science is a gift of God, it will lead us to the faith that is closer to the truth than others.

    And the Bible doesn’t teach that you believe something just because someone says it, or because you want to believe it. One is expected to put words to the test.

  8. Of course the existence of this God is one of the points in question. Belief in, and faith in, God is a personal choice and a very meaningful one to many, but it bypasses the subject of the thread, I think.

  9. I think one question is whether science leads to pure materialism, BA77 and myself have provided some links to scientists who argue that science cannot lead to pure materialism. As physicist Richard Conn Henry put it in the prestigious Scientific Journal Nature, 2005:

    The Universe is immaterial — mental and spiritual.

    Richard Conn Henry
    The Mental Universe: Nature Volume 436

    Henry’s letter probably got lost in the shuffle since 2005 was the stage of some rather heated ID debates regarding Nature’s coverage of the ID controversy.

    To my mind, Henry’s letter should have generated equal controversy.

  10. I am curious as to what Barry A’s thoughts on this quote are, since he felt it was important enough to warrant its own thread.

  11. Well I’m not Barry A, but I’ll have a shot. To be honest, Aleta, my first thought was the same as yours: it is easier to imagine aeons of mindless time past; it’s not so easy to imagine a disembodied mind (unless you count sense-deprived states or dreams etc.).

    It is true that mind appears as a local phenomenon. But does that mean our thoughts are located inside our heads? There is an interesting article in the Oxford Companion to Consciouness about this—as well as countless other perspectives, including quantum theories of consciousness.

    I’m not sure about quantum consciousness studies. I’m not a q. physicist, so if I posted I’d just be parroting others’ views—probably the views I preferred—something I always try to avoid… Still, I’d be interested to follow some of the links above. Also, it’s not a last-ditch theistic effort to salvage some kind of dualism. In fact, most of the die-hard quantum consciousness supporters in our department are die-hard atheists.

    I’d be very interested to see how this thread develops. And yes, Barry A’s comments would be worth a read.

  12. scordova,

    I’m suprised that Haldane was in crisisover these question of what guarantees his thoughts are logical.

    At one level the answer is evolution. Brains contain regions that are maps of the world, and species with poor maps get replaced by species with better maps.

    At another level, it is hubris to imagine that all thoughts are logical. Surely Haldane was familiar with optical illusions, being drunk, forgetting, being color blind, and being tone deaf. These are all clues that as a species, as individuals, or at different times, our thoughts do not map reality well, or logically.

    While these deficits are easy to explain for the materialist as aspects of the physical brain, its state, development, and its evolution, how aer they coherently explained by the mental idealist? Is my immaterial mind always ticking over like an angelic Mr Spock, who is in the unfortuate position of needing to shout suggestions to a material brain over some etheric connection? Does the rational, immaterial mind have my personality, my irrational preferences, my love of mushrooms and my hate of Brussel sprouts? Why?

  13. 13

    scordova 7

    How did you not say the same thing I did? I didn’t say it was an unreasonable faith, just that no one can prove the Mind before matter.

    The same evidence that makes Tafarella an agonostic, bolsters my belief, only because Scripture implores that we must believe to see.

    Romans 1.20 basically says that nature points to a Creator, but nowhere has God printed precisely “made by God.”

    I must trust that the mind preceding matter is Him. This is why Philip Johnson’s work on an a priori worldview is of such importance. All the arguing with people about evidence probably won’t move them, unless they want to. I do respect people who claim to be agnostic more than those claiming to be dogmatic atheists, because agnostics at least have intellectual honesty to say that you cannot prove/disprove God’s (the Prime Mind) existence.

    In some ways I wonder if God isn’t being playful with humanity (we are supposed to have faith like children, eh?) when he plays this hide-and-seek game. Like when Moses asks God for His name & God gives Moses a riddle of an answer saying His name is “I am.”

    Faith in the Great “I am” is the key to understanding the universe.

    I agree with you also that this is a gift.

  14. When God answered to Moses “I am who I am” this is in fact the perfect answer as to be expected because infinite being cannot be captured into a finite explanation.

    The second time “I am” is used in this context is in John 18:6 when Jesus is captured by the roman soldiers.
    John 18:6 When Jesus said to them, “I am He,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

    Jesus reveals the He is the “I am”

  15. Nakashima answers to Scarodova in 12 that evolution somewhat guarantees that our thoughts are logical and rational because we have evolved with better “mind map” of the world. However this is fallacious simply because maybe those that are most fit benefit from their irrationality. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the most rational survive in this world.

    Survival != most rational

  16. Further elaboration to Nakashima’s question in 12.

    “Is my immaterial mind always ticking over like an angelic Mr Spock, who is in the unfortuate position of needing to shout suggestions to a material brain over some etheric connection? Does the rational, immaterial mind have my personality, my irrational preferences, my love of mushrooms and my hate of Brussel sprouts? Why?”

    The idea of absolute dualism is false from Christian perspective. By absolute dualism I mean the idea that our thought are constructed by a immaterial entity somewhere. Apostle Paul speaks about the thoughts of the flesh i.e. material mind in Romans. According to bible this flesh i.e the carnal mind is a part of everyone, but humans have soul and spirit as well. By our conscious actions we will align our carnal mind to worldly things or to God but our mind will always remain somewhat carnal as long as we remain here.

  17. However this is fallacious simply because maybe those that are most fit benefit from their irrationality. It doesn’t necessarily follow that the most rational survive in this world.

    Well, you’d be right, if there wasn’t the fact that we can readily observe lots of irrational behavior to specifically NOT be conducive to survival (or better yet, to succesful procreation).

    But then, teasing this out will be exceedingly difficult, rational, like so many other terms, is not necessarily scientifically defined. I.e. how would we know if a certain action was based on reason rather than emotion?

  18. Mr Innerbling,

    It doesn’t necessarily follow that the most rational survive in this world.

    Survival != most rational

    I agree, the point about evolution should be understood broadly that the large part of our mind that absorbs sense impressions and commands our muscles is well tuned by the needs of survival to so accurately. Haldane’s worry that he had no reason to be confident in his material brain is not well founded.

  19. Nakashima answers to Scarodova in 12 that evolution somewhat guarantees that our thoughts are logical and rational because we have evolved with better “mind map” of the world.

    Of course if the purely physical is the true explanation of all causality in our brains, with a separate thing called ‘mind’ having no causative powers of its own, then there is absolutely no reason why we should need to have a “mind map”, no reason why we should need to be conscious and certainly nothing for natural selection to touch since it is wholly irrelevant what a mind without any non-physical causative powers thinks about what is taking place in and around the organism.

    Moreover, any purely physical explanation of organisms with minds should apply indistinguishably to the case in which the organism is a ‘zombie’ not actually possessing a mind (for if physics gets the job done, why should a mind bother to exist at all?). Since a purely physical description cannot distinguish between these two cases, it surely cannot be regarded as an explanation of mind.

  20. As I stated in earlier thread Haldane had very good reasons to doubt that his mind is rational if it is made by purely physical processes as in materialism:

    1. Consciousness is made of matter and physical laws C = A + B

    2. Nothing is greater than sum of its parts C !> A + B

    3. Neither A or B has rationality, love , free will or consciousness as an attribute

    4. Therefore A+B != C

    5. Or if A+B = C, C is an empty set in regards to rationality, consciousness, free will or love because 0 + 0 = 0.

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