“there is a strangeness in the air”, a quasi ID-friendly essay in Dennett and Hofstadter’s 1981 book on intelligence
|January 29, 2007||Posted by scordova under Intelligent Design|
In 1981 Dennett and Hofstadter edited a compilation of essays entitled The Mind’s I: Fantasies and Reflections on Self & Soul . The book is a compilation of essays by Dawkins, Morowitz, Searle, Alan Turing, and several other big names on the nature of mind and intelligence. Since ID implies a mind of some sort, it is appropriate to ponder what a mind really is, and this is a surprisingly good book on the topic.
Dennett’s co-author, Hofstadter, makes an interesting remark about the ultimate mind:
one way to think of the universal wave function [of quantum physics] is as the mind– or brain, if you prefer–of the great novelist in the sky, God.
[For the reader’s benefit, the science of the universal wave function and God are described here: Peer-Reviewed Stealth ID Classic : The Anthropic Cosmological Principle (1987).]
I found it curious Dennett would put his name to a book where such statements were asserted by his co-author, Hofstadter. Even more curious was a somewhat ID-friendly essay in the book by renowned origin-of-life researcher, Harold Morowitz. It was that essay that inspired Hofstadter’s words quoted above.
Morowitz’s essay is available online here: Rediscovery the Mind. Morowitz offered the following:
Something peculiar has been going on in science for the past 100 years or so. Many researchers are unaware of it, and others won’t admit it even to their own colleagues. But there is a strangeness in the air.
What has happened is that biologists, who once postulated a privileged role for the human mind in nature’s hierarchy, have been moving relentlessly toward the hard-core materialism that characterized nineteenth-century physics. At the same time, physicists, faced with compelling experimental evidence, have been moving away from strictly mechanical models of the universe to a view that sees that mind as playing an integral role in all physical events. It is as if the two disciplines were on fast-moving trains, going in opposite directions and not noticing what is happening across the tracks.
During the period in which psychologists and biologists were steadily moving toward reducing their disciplines to the physical sciences, they were largely unaware of perspectives emerging from physics that cast an entirely new light on their understanding. Toward the close of the last century [the 1800s], physics presented a very ordered picture of the world, in which events unfolded in characteristic, regular ways, following Newton’s equations in mechanics and Maxwell’s in electricity. These processes moved inexorably, independent of the scientist, who was simply a spectator. Many physicists considered their subject as essentially complete.
Starting with the introduction of the theory of relativity by Albert Einstein in 1905, this neat picture was unceremoniously upset. The new theory postulated that observers in different systems moving with respect to each other would perceive the world differently. The observer thus became involved in establishing physical reality. The Scientist was losing the spectator’s role and becoming an active participant in the system under study.
With the development of quantum mechanics, the role of the observer became an even more central part of physical theory, an essential component in defining an event. The mind of the observer emerged as a necessary element in the structure of the theory. The implications of the developing paradigm greatly surprised early quantum physicists and led them to study epistemology and the philosophy of science. Never before in scientific history, to my knowledge, had all of the leading contributors produced books and papers expounding the philosophical and humanistic meaning of their results.
Werner Heisenberg, one of the founders of the new physics, became deeply involved in the issues of philosophy and humanism. In Philosophical Problems of Quantum Physics, he wrote of physicists having to renounce thoughts of an objective time scale common to all observers, and of events in time and space that are independent of our ability to observe them. Heisenberg stressed that the laws of nature no longer dealt with elementary particles, but with our knowledge of these particles – that is, with the contents of our minds. Erwin Schrodinger, the man who formulated the fundamental equation of quantum mechanics, wrote an extraordinary little book in 1958 called Mind and Matter. In this series of essays, he moved from the results of the new physics to a rather mystical view of the universe that he identified with the “perennial philosophy” of Aldous Huxley. Schrodinger was the first of the quantum theoreticians to express sympathy with the Upanishads and Eastern philosophical thought. A growing body of literature now embodies this perspective, including two popular works, The Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra and The Dancing Wu Li Masters by Gary Zukav.
The problem faced by quantum theorists can best be seen in the famous paradox, “Who killed Schrodinger’s cat?” In a hypothetical formulation, a kitten is put in a closed box with a jar of poison and a triphammer poised to smash the jar. The hammer is activated by a counter that records random events, such as radioactive decay. The experiment lasts just long enough for there to be a probability of one-half that the hammer will be released. Quantum mechanics represents the system mathematically by the sum of a live-cat and a dead-cat function, each with a probability of one-half. The question is whether the act of looking (the measurement) kills or saves the cat, since before the experimenter looks in the box both solutions are equally likely.
This lighthearted example reflects a deep conceptual difficulty. In more formal terms, a complex system can only be described by using a probability distribution that relates the possible outcomes of and experiment. In order to decide among the various alternatives, a measurement is required. This measurement is what constitutes and event, as distinguished from the probability, which is a mathematical abstraction. However, the only simple and consistent description physicists were able to assign to a measurement involved an observer’s becoming aware of the result. Thus the physical event and the content of the human mind were inseparable. This linkage forced many researchers to seriously consider consciousness as an integral part of the structure of physics. Such interpretations moved science toward the idealist as contrasted with the realist conception of philosophy.
The views of a large number of contemporary physical scientists are summed up in the essay “Remarks on the Mind-Body Question” written by Nobel laureate Eugene Wigner. Wigner begins by pointing out that most physical scientists have returned to the recognition that thought – meaning the mind – is primary. He goes on to state: “It was not possible to formulate the laws of quantum mechanics in a fully consistent way without reference to the consciousness.” And he concludes by noting how remarkable it is that the scientific study of the world led to the content of consciousness as an ultimate reality.
A further development in yet another field of physics reinforces Wigner’s viewpoint. The introduction of information theory and its application to thermodynamics has led to the conclusion that entropy, a basic concept of that science, is a measure of the observer’s ignorance of the atomic details of the system. When we measure the pressure, volume, and temperature of an object, we have a residual lack of knowledge of the exact position and velocity of the component atoms and molecules. The numerical value of the amount of information we are missing is proportional to the entropy. In earlier thermodynamics, entropy had represented, in an engineering sense, the energy of the system unavailable to perform external work. In the modern view, the human mind enters once again, and entropy relates not just to the state of the system but to our knowledge of that state.
The founders of modern atomic theory did not start out to impose a “mentalist” picture on the world. Rather, they began with the opposite point of view and were forced to the present-day position in order to explain experimental results.
We are now in a position to integrate the perspectives of three large fields: psychology, biology, and physics. By combining the positions of Sagan, Crick, and Wigner as spokenmen for various outlooks, we get a picture of the whole that is quite unexpected.
First, the human mind, including consciousness and reflective thought, can be explained by activities of the central nervous system, which, in turn, can be reduced to the biological structure and function of that physiological system. Second, biological phenomena at all levels can be totally understood in terms of atomic physics, that is through the action and interaction of the component atoms of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and so forth. Third and last, atomic physics, which is now understood most fully by means of quantum mechanics, must be formulated with the mind as a primitive component of the system.
In addition to being an origin-of-life researcher, Morowitz was the director of the Krasnow Institute of Advanced Studies which does pioneering work in studies of the mind, brain, and intelligence. He has also accepted grants from the Templeton Foundation for some of his empirical research. He said in another book, Emergence of Everything
“We study GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s immanence through scienceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦Deep within the laws of physics and chemistry the universe is fit for life. This fitness we identify with GodÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s immanenceÃ¢â‚¬Â¦.The present study of this fitness take place under the rubric of ‘design’ “.
And in his book Cosmic Joy, Morowitz commenting on Quantum Physics, wrote,
“What emerges from all this is the return of “mind” to all areas of scientific thought. This is good news from the point of view of all varieties of natural theology. For a universe where mind is a fundamental part of reality more easily makes contact with the mind of god than does a mindless world.”
These words are all the more surprising given that Morowitz testified against the creationists in the landmark 1982 case, McLean vs. Arkansas, and has vigorously criticized intelligent design.