October 12, 2006

An infinite quality

Science, consciousness, and all that
Jonah Lehrer has posted a comment on V.S. Ramachandran’s recent thoughts on how science can solve the mystery consciousness. In it he points out the obvious:
Any explanation of our experience solely in terms of our neurons will never explain our experience…. To believe otherwise is to indulge in a simple category mistake… It is ironic, but true: the one reality science cannot reduce is the only reality we will ever know.
I am reminded of what Augustine said about time: as long as nobody asked, he knew what it was, but if someone asked, he didn’t. We all know what consciousness is — until someone asks. There are things that simply cannot be explained in terms of other things. The mystery of consciousness begins with the question: is it a thing, a property, or a relation? I vote for relation because when I say “I am conscious” I don’t mean that I am in possession of a thing or that I have a property but that I am aware of or perceive things. There are things that exist for me.
But somehow we cannot stop searching for “ultimate reality”, and two ultimate realities are definitely less intellectually satisfying than one. Emotionally it’s a different matter. As Ramakrishna said: I don’t want to be sugar, I want to taste it. Which brings me to the Indian metaphysical concept of ultimate reality, Brahman, which relates to the world in a threefold manner:
It is sat, the substances that constitutes the world.
It is chit, the self for which the world exists, or the consciousness that “contains” it.
It is ananda, subjectively speaking an infinite bliss and objectively speaking an infinite quality that throws itself into expressive movements and forms.
This leaves us with questions that are a lot more intelligent than questions arising from our childish conceptions of matter and/or God.
How does sat come to be, apparently, a multitude of particles?
By entering into spatial relations with itself! For space is nothing but the totality of existing spatial relations, whereas matter is nothing but the resulting apparent multitude of relata — apparent because the relations are self-relations.
How does chit come to be, apparently, a multitude of selves?
How does sat come to be, apparently, different from chit?
How does the world — a manifestation of ananda — come to be, apparently, a rather miserable place?
There are intelligent and (IMHO) very satisfying answers, but how are we going to find them if we never ask these questions?
In his follow-up post, Lehrer rightly questions the hybristic claim that science can solve any and every empirical problem. As I said in this post, science operates within an interpretative framework that formulates questions and interprets answers. When will the gung-ho materialists catch on to the fact that this framework is itself not testable?
Lehrer agrees with Dawkins that while science might never prove that a theistic God can’t exist, it can make Him seem woefully improbable. Thank God for small mercies! But isn’t it time we wake up to the possibility that other options exist besides the notion of a theistic God and a “scientific” materialism? (Needless to say, there is nothing scientific about the doctrine of materialism.)
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