Reconciling materialism and dualism (Endings)

by dhw, Friday, January 05, 2018, 17:33 (12 days ago)

I've been threatening for some time to look at this subject again, but after a diligent search I have found my first attempt, and I don't think I can express it any better now. It was written on 8 November 2016 at 12:16 under Human Consciousness: Penrose: soul survives! - a very dramatic headline which turned out to be somewhat misleading. We had a discussion afterwards, and David quite rightly pointed out that my post did not solve the problem of how consciousness came into being, but that was not my aim. It may be that there is nothing more to comment on, but I thought it was worth reviving, as is also the post on "big brain evolution".

DAVID: Penrose believes in microtubules in the brain carrying a quantum representation of the soul:

I’ve had another look at this, and I think Penrose has a major problem which I’ll come onto later, because first I want to try and formulate my own “reconciliation” between materialism and dualism. This entails synthesizing some of the theories we’ve been discussing, but my starting point is very different from all of them. I pointed out in the “brief guide” that someone on a planet billions of miles away with a powerful enough telescope would be able to view the crucifixion. Light is energy, and theoretically the visual image generated by a material event goes on for ever. The source is material (the actual crucifixion), but the image in the form of energy is not. It survives the death of the material source.

If we take this as an analogy, we can argue that although the material brain may be the source of the consciousness which contains all our non-material attributes – our thoughts, emotions, memories etc. – these are also a form of energy, or in other words the “image” produced by the materials is not material.

This ties in with two of the ideas we have already discussed: emergence, as the process whereby the property of the whole cannot be explained by the properties of its parts, and Sheldrake’s morphic field, which I take to mean all the attributes and information that comprise the identity of the individual. Once we think of consciousness in terms of energy produced by materials, and we link it to the analogy of the image produced by light, it seems to me that we have a reconciliation between materialism (materials are the source of consciousness) and dualism (the energy exists independently of the source).

We now come onto the subject of the “immortal soul”. My crucifixion analogy is limited because it is fixed, whereas consciousness is not. It continues to absorb and produce information so long as it exists, and this is where my hypothesis, Penrose’s and Sheldrake’s run into the same difficulty. My “energy”, Penrose’s “quantum information”, and Sheldrake’s “morphic field” are all immaterial products of the material being, and they may survive the death of the individual body in the sense that their already formed information can be accessed by others (like the image of the crucifixion). But that does not necessarily mean that the immaterial information/ energy/ morphic field is capable of undergoing any change once its source is extinguished. Penrose agrees with Hameroff that consciousness is “merely information stored at a quantum level”. But consciousness is not information; consciousness is awareness of information. It contains information – all the information that makes us what we are – but even if we can argue that the information itself may last for ever, the extra dimension of the conscious “I” which is aware of and uses the information cannot be explained as itself BEING information. To go back to my crucifixion image: the being with the telescope could theoretically observe every incident of my whole life, and if he was telepathic he could theoretically read every thought I ever had: all that information lives on. But it can’t go beyond what has already taken place.

I am making two points here. One, that materialism and dualism are not incompatible. But two, we are no nearer to solving the question of whether there is such a thing as a consciousness which can live on as a functioning, communicating, observing “I” after the death of its material source. That would require the purest possible form of dualism, with consciousness preceding materials – a concept that lies at the very heart of most religions and inevitably leads to God. I am not arguing against it, or against the possibility of an immortal, observing and thinking soul, as seems to be suggested by NDEs. I am simply saying that none of the hypotheses (quantum information, morphic field, everlasting energy) are of any help in settling the issue, and I would suggest that science is incapable of doing so, since it is restricted to a materialist approach to the whole subject. That’s why I like Penrose’s caution: “It’s possible,..can exist…perhaps indefinitely, as a soul” We shall just have to wait and see – or not see!

BACK TO THE PRESENT: The only thing I would add to this is that it would explain a number of psychic events that relate to the past: ghosts, deja vu etc. But it would not, of course, explain those relating to the future or the unknown present (e.g. NDEs in which patients are given information they could not have known).

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