thread: 2007-02-26 : Exorcism followthrough

On 2007-03-03, Evan McBride wrote:

I’ve always found psychological/physiological/evolutionary explanations of consciousness like the one Charles put forward entirely satisfying. Another interesting perspective is the Global Marketplace theory in cognitive psychology. It posits that the function of consciousness/self-awareness is to act as the brain’s news service, essentially. The ‘consciousness’ module organizes and prioritizes input coming in from all over the brain and broadcasts the most pressing information so that all modules can access it. It’s a different set of metaphors, but essentially the same explanation. I’ve probably done a poor job of explaining it so quickly, but I’ve found it quite useful.

Science and religion have a lot of the same problems in terms of how they get misunderstood. Often the loudest and most visible proponents of a particular scientific or religious idea (what tends to be considered the ‘mainstream’ of science or religion) are those who are the least connected to the actual meaning and principles behind that that they are professing. In a similar way to how Christianity isn’t at its core about war and greed, science at its core is absolutely not about intellectual arrogance and the belief that one has all the answers. In fact, such arrogance is antithetical to the scientific ideal and its meaningful practice as a search for answers.

Quite often, I hear people say things like “I refuse to think that my mind and identity and who I am, perhaps even my ‘soul’, is nothing more than a bunch of chemical reactions and electrical charges”. There’s a perception that material explanations somehow cheapen the spiritual. Do they? In practice, sometimes yes, when they are applied crudely. In principle, absolutely not.

The scientific picture of the brain isn’t a simple clockwork going about its business. As NinJ explained so well the mind is a breathtakingly complex emergent process, which interacts with the world around is in more countless ways than we can possibly be aware of. We don’t perceive objects, we perceive our own relationship with those objects - we are a web of interconnectedness with the world around us. Is all of this a less spiritually fulfilling grounding than ‘God willed it to be so’? Is there less magic in the former than the latter?

And are they even slightly incompatible or contradictory, if you strip away the surface of dogma?

As a human being searching for meaning and understanding in my life’s journey, as both a scientist and a man of faith, there’s little more frustrating to me than the false dualisms that so often crop up in discussions of religion and the mind. Science versus Religion. The Mind/Soul (spiritual, otherworldy) versus the Body/Brain (base matter). It all comes down to different metaphors for explaining the same thing, and they’re more useful (I find) in combination than in isolation.

Is Free Will versus Determinism a meaningful dualism? I must admit that it’s not one to which I’ve dedicated quite as much thought. I agree with Charles that there’s very little consensus into what precisely these terms mean, and that makes meaningful discussion of them very tricky.

Does something make me do the things I do? Well, who I am makes me do the things I do, I suppose. Is that free will or determinism? What makes me who I am? Everything that’s come before me and shaped me over the years, each element filtered by exposure to each other, everything interconnected. The Universe makes me who I am, I suppose, the process that is continual interconnected Creation. Which, once again dependent on your definition of tricky terms, may or may not be the same as saying “God”.

Our behaviour is determined by our identity and thought processes, which are a part of an interconnected and mutually causal universe. Character is Destiny, to quote Heraclitus. Who we are, the result of a web of creation and causality, determines our response to elements in that web.

Is that free will or determinism? Search me. Switch your metaphors and definitions around a little, and it seems to me you could get away with calling it either. To-may-to, to-mah-to.

Or, not having a solid grounding in the exact meaning of Free Will in the Christian/Mormon cosmologies, am I missing the point of what’s being asked?


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