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Sci Tech    H3'ed 11/27/14

The Physics of Spirit

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The Physics of Spirit

{This article was goaded by Terry Patten's glowing review of Sam Harris' book, Waking Up. Patten's November 25 OpEdNews article is titled, The Marriage of Science and Spirit: Negotiating the Great Pre-Nup, Part 2: Why Sam Harris' "Waking Up" Matters. Here's a link to the Patten article, }

Mark Twain said, "It isn't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just isn't so."

Buckminster Fuller said, "You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete."

In the spirit of Buckminster Fuller, I will present a new model of neurophysics that makes the Sam Harris reductionist model obsolete. Harris cannot understand how an individual conscious being -- a personal self -- can be a "real" part of a physical human body/brain. He believes that, if he cannot understand how it works, it can't be "real". He knows "for sure". So Harris et al confidently assert that our personal conscious self is an illusion. But it just isn't so.

Harris is guilty of what William James called the anti-empirical mentality of conceptual realism. Rather than accept our perceptual experiences of reality as evidence of what is real and try to rationally understand how empirically known reality "works", conceptual realists take their conceptual model to be real, and deny the reality of any empirical evidence that cannot be causally/logically accommodated within their narrowly deficient conceptual paradigm. They already "know" how reality works, so the evidence is clipped and twisted to fit the model, rather than expanding the model to accommodate the evidence.

Conceptual realism is motivated by intellectual hubris, an implicit or explicit assumption that we already know reality and understand how it works. So if something cannot be causally/logically accommodated within the present understanding, the conceptual realist says that thing cannot be real. The model is taken as the reality, and the evidence is taken as false because it doesn't "fit" in the conception of reality. Conceptual realists twist evidence to make it "fit" in their conceptual belief system, and deny the reality of any evidence that cannot be made to fit.

This is the recipe for all kinds of firmly believed false worldviews that are highly resistant to correction by empirical evidence of reality. Neoclassical economics believes in its econometric models, and denies the reality of real-world outcomes that fail to meet the models' predictions. Standard Model quantum physics smashes particles and "sees" Higgs bosons that do not actually exist, but which causally/logically must exist if the Standard Model is a "true" and "complete" conceptual understanding of quantum reality. The primitive branches of neuroscience deny the reality of consciousness and the conscious self, because neuroscience cannot presently understand how consciousness is possible.

Neuroscience does not know what consciousness is and does not understand how a conscious self is possible. Neuroscience looks at the dense electronic complexity of a brain -- billions of neurons electrically signaling each other via trillions of axon-wires linked across synapses -- and sees nothing approximating a central information reception and control system that might be the "seat of the soul", as it used to be called.

The ancients believed that the conscious part of a human being is our "eternal soul". Some traditions (Greek, Hindu, Buddhist, etc) believe the soul is planted in human bodies in multiple re-incarnations. The Catechism, and Rene Descartes in his 1642 book, Meditations on First Philosophy, present the Catholic position that our "eternal soul" is immediately given by God.

These are wrong understandings of what we are as conscious spiritual beings. It is these "conscious eternal soul" conceptions that people like Sam Harris rail against, for the very good reason that these "eternal soul" conceptions are false understandings. We are brain-generated human spirits, not God-given eternal souls. But Harris et al simply replace one false understanding with a different one, which is what I strongly object to.

Various academic disciplines have historically inquired into the nature and workings of consciousness and "the soul".

Theology tries to build a comprehensive understanding of reality around the "eternal soul" idea, taking that idea as fundamentally true and building a conceptual model of reality that is causally/logically coherent with the central idea of the eternal soul. These models strain rational credibility with their anti-empirical "facts".

Philosophical metaphysics recognizes the distinction between reality, and some conscious mind knowing reality, and tries to understand how reality gets from "out there" in ontological reality, to "in here" in our epistemological knowing. Philosophical metaphysics is the precursor to physiological psychology, which is the precursor to neuropsychology, which inquires into the brain-consciousness relationship. Today philosophy of mind continues the inquiry, informed by the 2500 year tradition of metaphysics and the much more recent discoveries of neuropsychology.

When I first studied physiological psychology in 1975, textbooks represented the conscious self as a little guy -- the much maligned homunculus -- pulling levers inside our head. The science of the brain-mind relationship -- now called neuropsychology -- acknowledged that there very much seems to be a conscious self in us, but had no idea where it is or how it works. In the spirit of empiricism, the science accepted the empirical evidence of our direct conscious experience of being a conscious self, and in the spirit of intellectual humility acknowledged that science did not understand the workings of that part of empirically known reality. So the science included the conscious homunculus in its models, but couldn't explain how the conscious part of us "works".

In 1975 physiological psychology was working on the mechanics of perception and mapping out the regions of the brain and wasn't trying to understand consciousness. Today consciousness remains an untouchable subject in neuropsychology, because the science does not have a rational explanation for what a consciousness "is" and how it works; and the religiously-tainted "conscious soul" concept seems to be the only candidate for belief. Among prominent neuropsychologists, Antonio Damasio is probably the closest to acknowledging the reality of consciousness; though Damasio limits himself to describing the information contents of consciousness without stating or suggesting what a consciousness "is".

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Derryl Hermanutz Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

I spent my working life as an independent small business owner/operator. My academic background is in philosophy and political economy. I began studying monetary systems and monetary history after the 1982 banking crash that was precipitated by (more...)

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