Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Endless Debate

I’ve had occasion to point to a categorization of problems offered by E.F. Schumacher earlier (link). Schumacher suggests that humanity’s problems are either convergent or divergent. The first of these are physical in nature, dealing with the non-living sphere.  In attacking these physical problems, sooner or later efforts “converge” on a decent solution. The second, divergent problems, center on the living, including human phenomena. Values are always involved in these. And precisely for that reason, humanity never embraces a single solution. There is perpetual discovered. And that is because humans are—and this is my label, not Schumacher’s—unfinished.

Endless debates are a marker of divergent issues. Even masses of empirical data fail to solve them. One such is whether “life” or “mind” are emergent or transcendent phenomena. If they are emergent, all is but a consequence of matter/energy complexly arranged by chance. If the latter, we must posit a “higher” dimension from which life and mind derive. The debate is unending because the scientific observations will not produce an answer. They present a pattern which people with different awareness will interpret intuitively, thus from personal experience. And they will therefore have a very firm conviction that they are right. If one’s intuition produces the inwardly felt truth of transcendence, the mechanical will never seem sufficient explanation for the living or the spiritual. If no such resonance is felt by the person—but the facts of life and mind are still there to see—the equally firm view is that these must have evolved.

A recent example of this is a book by Ray Kurzweil, How to Create a Mind: The Secret of Human Thought Revealed—and a review of the book by Collin McGinn (link), in the New York Review of Books, titled “Homunculism” (ht to Siris).

Rare, exceedingly rare, is the case where a man of science after long, long study of what is a divergent problem, at last concludes that something transcendental is going on. I came across a book that makes this point last year, Wilder Penfield’s The Mystery of the Mind (p. 113-114). Penfield was a pioneering neurosurgeon.  And even Penfield ends with a reservation:

And so I come to my final reconsideration: I worked as a scientist trying to prove that the brain accounted for the mind and demonstrating as many brain-mechanisms as possible hoping to show how the brain did so. In presenting this monograph I do not begin with a conclusion and I do not end by making a final and unalterable one. Instead, I reconsider the present-day neurophysiological evidence on the basis of two hypotheses: (a) that man’s being consists of one fundamental element, and (b) that it consists of two. I take the position that the brain-mechanism, which we (my many colleagues and I all around the world), are working out, would, of course have to be employed on the basis of either alternative. In the end I conclude that there is no good evidence, in spite of new methods, such as the employment of stimulating electrodes, the study of conscious patients and the analysis of epileptic attacks, that the brain alone can carry out the work that the mind does. I conclude that it is easier to rationalize man’s being on the basis of two elements than on the basis of one. But I believe that one should not pretend to draw a final scientific conclusion, in man’s study of man, until the nature of the energy responsible for mind-action is discovered as, in my own opinion, it will be.

The debate will certainly continue on. There is such a thing as the will to believe, but  it arises from a spark of intuition. Until it does, all will be matter, matter, drearily matter.

1 comment:

  1. I read this thrice, until I thought I understood what was going on.

    I got a lot to think about, particularly Dr. Penfield's conclusion about "rationalize man's being on the basis of two elements"...

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