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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

What Can Science Explain? A lot, but not much.


Can science explain consciousness, human behavior, the origins of the univers, the mind. In a word, Nope.

Give to science what belongs to science

I just read a fascinating article, Consciousness: Why Materialism Fails. I especially like the paraphrase of Planck’s view, “Science changes funeral by funeral.”

The smug and effete attitude is that science knows and can explain all. Science, for all of its beautiful and energetic trying, actually knows very little. It makes neat theories to explain what it can sense, and speculates on what it can't sense.

Science can't tell us why anything is here at all. What is the first cause? What came before the Big Bang? No clue. Scientist may explore the fundamentals of the Big Bang, but can't explain why the fundamentals are there. Even the Big Bang is not necessarily true. Parts of the universe appear to be expanding, and parts of it contracting. There seem to be attractors at work within the universe, and they aren't black holes. This isn't reconciled with the Big Bang. It's an anomoly. It's more of the area for scientific theories and testing.

Science doesn't know if the universe is still there. It takes light from distant galaxies, millions of years to get here.

Science can't sense or explain over 90% of the universe. Dark matter appears to be 74% of it. Dark energy another 23%. Even on this estimates vary.

Astrophysicists use a correction constant of K to make their formulas work. What K is exactly, is unknown, and is generally described in circular explanations. The fact of K explains itself. But the constant makes the formulas work well.

Science can't explain quantum entanglement, it's just spooky science that when particles split, what happens to one happens to the other. It can't explain why waves or particles manifest with measurement. It's just Schroedinger's Cat.

Science can't explain the attractions that make atoms stick together, electrons orbit, magnetic lines exist and interact, nor gravity. It knows the attractions are there, and can sense them or predict behaviors. But it can't explain them.

Even the confirmation of the "God Particle," the Higgs Boson considered to be the very foundation of particle physics, doesn't explain how or why.

So it's no surprise to me that science has yet to explain something as complex as consciousness, the mind, or the spiritual. It has no concrete definition of what any of these things are. It can't see or sense these, but can only see barely explainable activity as the result of these. You might stimulate an area of the brain and get a bodily movement or a memory, or even something similar to a near death experience, but you don't get an explanation, and nothing as profound and with the internal integrity and coherence of near death experinces. These are not explained away by science, except to those who believe only what they want to see and believe.

Recent research has shown that when damaged connections in the brain are restored, memories return, and this asks a very profound question, was the memory in the synapse, as currently believed, or somewhere else. Removing material that impedes synapse functioning restores memories to alzheimers patients. We can transfer electrical impulses from one brain to another and the second person can see something like the image the other person sees. But this doesn't even get close to the idea of consciousness.

The spiritual can be partly described as an area of ideas, some good, some bad. They are there for us to select, according to our inclination and ability to risk. There is so much research in the field of the paranormal, as well as actual use, that both quantum physics and the paranormal indicate there is much beyond science and our basic understanding in the physical world. While studies of meditation indicate that it can be an integrative process in which things we know are connected to give us new understandings, there is also strong evidence that some can transcend their individual consciousness to get information they had no way of knowing. Is the mind something that transcends time and physical death? Science can't say with any certainty. But the experience of humanity says yes.

Many aren't able to believe in anything beyond the physical that they can touch. The physicalists believe that the brain is all there is, and at death it ceases to be. Why would people think that? Many are so wrapped up in science and what they can see that to believe in anything beyond that is absurd.

Another reason, one of the greatest fears and motivators in our world is an uncertain future. People are very troubled, and unhappy, by change in their world, more so than by anything else. Many very well done studies in very disparate parts of the world show people can adapt to and live with crime, if it's a constant in their world. They can live with poverty and be relatively happy. But the one thing they can't live with is an uncertain future. Uncertainty frames the spiritual. Should they believe if God and religion can't be proved? If they just say, "There is no God and no life after death," the problem is solved and they can live with that. It's a sense of control.

Another reason people don't believe is that people are very influenced by their peers. If their peers say, "Consciousness and mind, if there is such a thing, don't survive death," then they are influenced to repeat that. Attitude study indicates that if people put this type of thought and teaching forward, then it changes their beliefs to exactly what they say or do. Other recent studies show the persistence of beliefs in the face of strong facts, because of polarization.

Most people over forty have difficulty changing their minds about anything. Once their mind is set, it isn't likely to be changed. If you want to change minds, it's best to work with those under 40. The older generation has to pass away for society to change. As Planck observed, paraphrased, belief changes funeral by funeral.

Science is good about describing what it can observe and sense, including identifying the anomalies that don't fit the theories. But in all of its fantastic abilities, advances for humanity, intricate theories, and elegant findings, what science can't do is explain the basic underlying how or why of the basic universe. And for some, to have to say, "We don't know," is terrifying. Questions are better resolved with a bad answer than none at all. Knowing gives us a feeling of control, of certainty in our world.

Contrary to certainty and control, in that simple statement, "We don't know," is the initiative to explore, to observe, to experience, and the beginning of further understanding. And that, terrifying as it may be, is one of the basic quests of humanity. To always keep learning. Because when you quit learning, you're dead, funeral by funeral.

Consciousness: Why Materialism Fails

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