What is Parapsychology? ( 什麼是超心理學? )

What is Parapsychology? ( 什麼是超心理學? )
[創意組織 ]
(2003/08/29)

What is Parapsychology?

CAN claims of extrasensory perception, or ESP as it is commonly called, be studied as a science? Can assertions of psychic phenomena be subject to the scientific method of experimental design, statistical significance, and independent replication? The controversial field is called parapsychology, and if you can read minds, see the future, or sense unusual things, we have some parapsychologists who would like to meet you–and test you. But critics–who call themselves skeptics–assert that the entire field is virtually all pseudoscience, without serious merit, just capitalizing on uncritical media and a gullible public. Parapsychology, according to skeptics, should be debunked. Parapsychology, according to proponents, is the scientific study of the paranormal, also known as psi phenomena. It is the careful investigation of events–like mental telepathy, clairvoyance, or other bizarre manifestations–that seemingly cannot be accounted for by natural law or knowledge. The claim that parapsychology is a real science excites some but annoys others. Is parapsychology a new science or an old fraud? Here we brought together some leading parapsychologists and skeptics. They joust and we judge.

PARTICIPANTS

Dr. Barry Beyerstein, a neuropsychologist at Simon Fraser University in Canada and a leading skeptic, is a regular contributor to the Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Barry requires reasonable evidence and logic to justify extraordinary claims.

Dr. Dean Radin, an experimental psychologist who has conducted ESP experiments, is the author of The Conscious Universe. Dean believes that ESP research demonstrates what he calls “the scientific truth about psychic phenomena.”

Dr. Marilyn Schlitz, trained as an anthropologist, is the research director of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and a leading scientist in parapsychology. Marilyn presents careful experiments supporting the existence of psychic phenomena.

Dr. Charles Tart, a research pioneer in scientific parapsychology, is the author of over 250 articles published in professional books and journals, including Science and Nature. Charles is a spiritual seeker who believes that one of his virtues as a scientist is that he hates to be fooled.

Dr. James Trefil, a professor of physics at George Mason University, is a prolific author and commentator on science in the national media. Jim views parapsychology through the critical eyes of a mainstream scientist.

ROBERT: Dean, why do you think that the scientific method can be applied to the investigation of psychic phenomena? Skeptical critics claim that ESP is more wishful thinking or ancient superstition than serious science, with a touch of modern fraud tossed in now and then.

DEAN: Science consists of two general areas: there is the act of measurement, which is the empirical side of science, and there is the development of mechanisms, which is its theoretical side. When people ask the question, “Is parapsychology scientific?” they’re almost always thinking about the theoretical side. And it’s quite true that we don’t have very good theories about why psychic phenomena happen.

ROBERT: Do you mean that even those scientists who are convinced of the reality of psychic phenomena cannot construct convincing fundamental mechanisms–theories–to explain its underlying cause?

DEAN: Yes. But on the measurement side, it’s very clear that the scientific method can be brought to bear on these phenomena.

ROBERT: We’re going to examine that assertion. Charles, you’ve been a parapsychologist for forty years; you’re one of parapsychology’s founders. Can you describe the field and give some sense of its import for human understanding?

CHARLES: Parapsychology is our modern name for what was originally called psychical research. It began as an organized field of inquiry in the nineteenth century, when there was much conflict between science and religion. Science seemed to be explaining more and more of the world, and it threatened to throw out religion totally. But a few scientists thought that religion was not all nonsense. They wondered whether it was possible to apply the methods of science, which had worked so well in the physical sciences, to examine the strange or unusual happenings associated with religion and to find out whether those phenomena are actual fact or just superstition. Parapsychology is the modern evolution of those early investigations.

ROBERT: Barry, you’re a neuroscientist and a skeptic. I know what a neuroscientist does–you study the brain. What does a skeptic do?

BARRY: A skeptic is someone who demands reasonable evidence and reasonable logic to back up extraordinary claims. I wouldn’t call parapsychology a pseudoscience, as long as it uses the same experimental controls, the same techniques, and the same mathematical and statistical procedures that are used within mainstream science. We can disagree about the adequacy of the evidence–that’s what I’m skeptical about–but I don’t claim that it’s all fraud or pseudoscience. The key is the amount of evidence and the availability of that evidence for skeptics to check.

ROBERT: We’re going to give you some evidence right now. Marilyn, the Institute of Noetic Sciences is a leading center of research on the mind and unusual phenomena. Could you describe your own most compelling experiments where human “senders” influenced the physiological responses of human “receivers” at a distance, without any intervening sensory communications?

MARILYN: We were interested in evaluating the extraordinary claims made by healers in different cultures. Were those healers somehow able to influence the physiology of people at a distance, under conditions where recipients didn’t even know that senders were trying to affect them? Since such investigations are very difficult to conduct in a field setting, we moved into the laboratory. The experiment monitored the measurable effects of autonomic nervous activity, which is the part of our physiology that functions automatically.

ROBERT: Like heart rate, breathing, peristalsis.

MARILYN: That’s right. So I would invite you into the lab and I would monitor various attributes of your physiology.

ROBERT: I’m nervous already.

MARILYN: We can calm you¡K. Then we would sCHARLES monitoring your galvanic skin response, the electrical activity of your skin, which is the same method used in lie detectors–

ROBERT: I’m not coming near you.

MARILYN: Oh, you have something to hide, do you? Here’s the procedure. You, as the recipient-subject, sit in one room while we’re monitoring your physiology. Then we invite a sender-healer to sit in a distant room, and there’s absolutely no sensory communication between the two of you. We ask this healer, at specific random moments, to influence your physiology at a distance. So, for example, he or she might try to calm you, by employing psychical projections of serenity. We then compare your autonomic nervous system activity during the test periods, when the healer is attempting to calm you, with your autonomic nervous system during the control periods, when everything is the same except the healer is not sending. We call these experiments “intentionality at a distance.”

ROBERT: As the recipient, I wouldn’t know when the healer was trying to exert influence-intentionality–at a distance?

MARILYN: Exactly. You’d have no idea when these influence periods occur; they’re randomly distributed throughout the session. We’ve now compiled about forty experiments that were set up under this kind of protocol. Overall, the results are highly compelling. There are strong statistical data to support the idea that there’s some kind of exchange of information between the sender and the recipient, even though under these conditions there’s no sensory contact.

ROBERT: Have you had nonbelievers–skeptics–auditing the experimental design, the data, and the statistical analysis?

MARILYN: The most recent experiments I’ve done were with a professor from England, Richard Wiseman, who’s a card-carrying member of the skeptical community. He was very interested in doing experiments together, and the first project we did was in his lab, under his conditions. Everything was identical–same equipment, same randomization procedures, same subject population–except that I worked with half the people and he worked with half the people. The result was that we both replicated our initial findings: I got statistical significance and he didn’t. This result was compelling to us, in terms of what effect the expectations of the researcher might have on the results. We then invited Richard to come over to my laboratory and set up the same experiment–and, again, we replicated the effect a second time. These experiments suggest that not only is there an effect but it can happen under conditions where skeptics and proponents work together. And they further suggest that there may be some way in which the belief systems or expectations of the researcher come into play.

ROBERT: Jim, you’re a physicist. One of your many books is 101 Things You Don’t Know About Science. Did you include parapsychology in your list?

JIM: No–that book was a tour of the frontiers of science at the end of the twentieth century.

ROBERT: Why didn’t you include parapsychology?

JIM: One of the criteria I used for including an issue was that there had to be some reasonable expectation that the issue would be resolved in the foreseeable future. Parapsychology has been around, as has been said, for over a century. I don’t see a resolution coming anytime soon, so I didn’t include it.

ROBERT: Dean, take us through the categories of parapsychology. People know what mental telepathy is, but there’s more.

DEAN: There are four classic categories that are studied as part of parapsychology. One is telepathy, as you said. The common understanding that telepathy means “the reading of minds” is not quite right, because that sounds as though thoughts were being perceived, and this virtually never happens. Telepathy means that there’s some kind of mind-to-mind connection; it’s often a feeling, the kind of emotion that seems to pass. The second category is clairvoyance, which is getting information from a distance, either in space or time. The third category is precognition, which can be considered a subset of clairvoyance, which is the acquisition of specific information through time.

ROBERT: So clairvoyance is defined as the occurrence of apprehending information directly, something that you couldn’t know through the senses. Clairvoyance differs from telepathy in that clairvoyance perceives information directly from an object or about an event, whether past, present or future, without the necessity of any other mind knowing about that object or event.

DEAN: Right. For example, [the object or the event] can be hidden, as in an envelope or at a distance, so that normal senses couldn’t perceive it. Or it could be displaced in time, whether precognition [knowledge of the future] or retrocognition [knowledge of the past]. The fourth category is psychokinesis, popularly known as “mind over matter.”

ROBERT: What’s a classic “mind over matter” experiment?

DEAN: In the old days, gamblers would claim that they could toss the dice and make a certain number come up more often than chance should allow, and that initiated about forty or fifty years of research, doing exactly that experiment.

ROBERT: Might trips to casinos alleviate some of the financial pressure of funding parapsychological research?

DEAN: There are two questions here: first, is there any effect when gamblers “will” certain numbers to come up; and second, if there’s an effect, what is its magnitude? It turns out that when we do the overall assessment, we discover that there’s an effect, but its magnitude is less than one percent. That’s not very big.

ROBERT: One percent is well below the lowest odds advantages of the house. Do we cancel the trip to Las Vegas?

DEAN: You’ll continue to lose at the casinos, though maybe a little bit slower.

ROBERT: Charles, give us some sense of the classic experiments in parapsychology, and how the field developed originally as a science.

CHARLES: In Victorian days, people played what you might call telepathic parlor games. I might ask you to go off in another room, open a book, and read a certain passage, while back here the rest of our little group would try to write down our mental impression of whatever was in that passage. Let’s say that on occasion some of us would get a few words that were the same as those in the book. This kind of experiment is very hard to evaluate; there are lots of words in a book passage. There were many informal, inconclusive experiments like this.

ROBERT: How were the first reasonably scientific experiments designed?

CHARLES: A more classic telepathy experiment would work something like this. Someone goes off to a different room and shuffles a stack of cards a dozen times to make sure it’s thoroughly mixed. He or she would then, at predetermined time intervals–say, every sixty seconds–look at one card at a time. Meanwhile people back in the original room would write down their impression of the order of the cards. We could then evaluate, with statistical mathematics, whether the experiment produced results that were sufficiently above chance to justify the supposition that sometimes information was being transferred. I’d estimate that there are now several hundred experiments showing that this kind of telepathy experiment can produce results greater than chance. Now, it’s a small effect, as Dean [Radin] said; it differs from chance by only a few percentage points. It’s very rare to get a perfect score; getting a hundred-percent-correct result in such an experiment has happened maybe two or three times in the whole history of the field.

ROBERT: Given the huge number of experiments that have been conducted, one would expect, just from normal randomized statistical distribution, that every once in a while the results would be a hundred percent perfect. I’d equally expect that every now and then the results would be a complete bust–getting nothing right, zero percent.

CHARLES: Except that we have sophisticated sets of statistical tools that can differentiate between results that reflect statistical significance and random distribution. Of course, one can make the counterargument that the published results are only those experiments that happen to come out above chance, and that if you included all the actual experiments done but unpublished, then the total results would approximate chance. To test this claim, you can figure out how many unsuccessful, unpublished psi experiments would have to have been done. It turns out that for this counterargument to be true, then every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth would have to have been doing ten failed experiments a day for the last five thousand years. This shows the strength of the data. The evidence for the existence of telepathy or clairvoyance is overwhelming.

ROBERT: We’re talking about a meta-analysis of parapsychological experiments–an analysis that pulls together a large number of independent experiments.

DEAN: Meta-analysis means the analysis of analyses, so rather than doing multiple trials in a single experiment, you look at the collected results of many experiments.

ROBERT: In the last thirty or forty years of parapsychological research, what’s your strongest piece of evidence?

MARILYN: I don’t think we can identify one particular experiment that makes the case for the field; we have to look at the aggregate. Research has taken different directions. There’s the remote viewing work, where people are attempting to describe characteristics of geographical locations at a distance. A number of experiments have now been done using this kind of procedure–and have been replicated consistently–producing sufficient data to demonstrate that there’s some kind of effect happening here.

ROBERT: You’ve conducted some of the interesting Ganzfeld experiments; this is a procedure where you reduce sensory input for subjects and then ask them to describe, say, a remote video clip. One of the favorite techniques is to tape sliced Ping-Pong balls over their eyes and feed white noise into their ears; then they’re asked to imagine what somebody else is drawing, or something like that.

MARILYN: The Ganzfeld is a procedure that was initiated at the turn of the twentieth century, when introspective psychological experiments were popular. Sensory deprivation is a technique that induces imagery; in a way, it simulates the dream experience, and people start seeing images.

ROBERT: Is it like an altered state of consciousness?

CHARLES: Yes, sensory deprivation is conducive to inducing an altered state.

ROBERT: Has it been shown that altered states have a positive correlation with evidence for telepathy and clairvoyance?

CHARLES: There’s a general literature to that effect, and I believe that it’s probably true. If I say, use your ESP, that’s a simple, rational thing to do–and it usually doesn’t work. We don’t know what part of the mind ESP comes from, but it doesn’t seem to come from normal consciousness.

ROBERT: Barry, what does a skeptic make of all this?

BARRY: Unfortunately, the debate has gotten so technical that what we’re now talking about are very, very small statistical effects. And when the effects are that small, and that difficult for skeptics like myself and my students to replicate, then we have to look to the possibility that there are interesting statistical anomalies and artifacts here, not real phenomena. A statistical effect, if you get one, means that it’s unlikely for the event in question to have happened by chance alone. But even if there’s something operating here, statistical significance alone can’t tell you what that something is. Is it some paranormal phenomenon? Or is it sensory leakage? Is it fraud? Is it recording error? Or is it some kind of subtle artifact of the experiment that’s well worth studying but is normal, in the sense that it doesn’t violate our sense of the physical world. There are just so many possibilities other than paranormal explanations, and statistics alone will never tell us what’s really going on. Statistics can only inform us that it’s unlikely that there’s nothing but chance operating there.

ROBERT: I have a sense that in recent times there’s actually less research going on in parapsychology than there was a few decades ago. Innovative research interest, today, seems oriented more toward transpersonal and other kinds of holistic psychologies. Has the experimental side of parapsychology diminished in importance?

DEAN: I don’t think the importance of parapsychological research has diminished at all. It may be that the total number of people actively doing experiments is probably somewhat lower.

ROBERT: Why is that?

DEAN: I think interest in parapsychology goes in cycles. There’s something like a twenty-year funding cycle.

ROBERT: It has nothing to do with sunspots?

DEAN: Well, perhaps that, too–but I don’t think so. It’s quite interesting that fifty years ago the usual skeptical response was that parapsychological phenomena were just impossible, full stop. But something new has occurred in the last decade or so. Barry brought out that we’re now dealing with technical issues of experimentation, where we’re trying to figure out whether this anomaly is psi or something more commonplace. And that’s a very dramatic change.

ROBERT: Are you suggesting a subtle admission by skeptics that experimental data of parapsychological phenomena are meeting the critical tests of good science, such as tightly controlled experimental design, replicability by independent scientists and labs, and statistical significance?

DEAN: It changes the playing field from “You guys are nuts, because this stuff couldn’t possibly be real” to “Let’s figure out whether these anomalies are what they appear to be–because, after all, they came from people’s experiences, not from strange experiments in the lab–and if they’re what they appear to be, we’ve captured psi.”

ROBERT: What do your friends and colleagues in mainstream science think of your chosen profession?

DEAN: They hold a range of opinions, but in general here’s what happens. Scientist friends or colleagues will come into my lab–some claiming they’re skeptics, some not–and then they actually spend time running experiments and looking at the results. When they do these steps themselves, they usually change their opinion quite quickly. This opinion change is of two kinds. First, they realize that parapsychologists are as skeptical as they are. You have to be, because after years of scrutinizing these experiments, what we do now is quite good science. Second, they witness experiments that in some cases are really quite dramatic. Real anomalies emerge right before their eyes, and so my colleagues become really interested.

ROBERT: Jim, what would it take for you to move parapsychology from where you wouldn’t even mention it in your books to recommending it for inclusion in mainstream scientific discussion?

JIM: In science, there’s this process of first establishing that something happens–that there really is something going on that needs to be explained, and then you try to explain it; this is what you call experimental theory. My take on parapsychology is that I’m not convinced that there’s something to be explained here.

ROBERT: What would convince you to change your opinion?

JIM: I could imagine carefully controlled experiments that produced anomalous data. I haven’t seen Marilyn’s [Schlitz] experiments; however, I’ve seen others that looked just as convincing initially, but then you get into these very technical discussions of the experimental design and the statistics. The issue often comes down to what sorts of things could produce these very small effects that people are measuring–things that wouldn’t necessarily have anything to do with extrasensory perception but might be something in the design of the experiment or the way data was analyzed.

ROBERT: Charles, you’ve dealt with these issues for decades. Has the whole field of parapsychology devolved down to hypertechnicalities?

CHARLES: Meanwhile, back in the real world, real people are having real experiences that they believe are due to extrasensory perception. Surveys show that a majority of the population thinks they have had an ESP encounter personally. Of course, when you have people claiming to have had a psychic experience, you ask yourself what it means. If you ask the people themselves, you get a large range of responses. Some go off the deep end, declaring, “I’m chosen by God, because I’m so very special.” Others try to make sense of what happened, but they run into skeptics who tell them that these experiences are impossible and anyone who thinks he’s had such an experience is simply deluding himself. I don’t think it’s a particularly healthy response to invalidate people that way.

ROBERT: How would you respond to such a person describing an anomalous, seemingly psychic experience?

CHARLES: Some few of us look at the scientific literature on parapsychology and say, Well, we do have evidence for basic psi phenomena–like telepathy or precognition or something similar–so maybe this particular real-world instance was an actual occurrence. Psychic experiences are not just matters of academic interest. When people have a psychic experience, they quite often change their philosophy of life–or if they already have, say, spiritual values, these beliefs are then validated by the event. I’m not simply an experimental parapsychologist. I’m a transpersonal psychologist–which means that I’m interested in the personal, emotional applications of psychic experiences. I want us to have a good database on what happens in these experiences: What seems to be a real effect and what seems to be illusion? What kinds of people have them, and are they associated with mental illness? By the way, psi phenomena are not generally related to mental illness. Parapsychology can have practical relevance to real people’s lives.

ROBERT: Charles, you wrote very personally that your initial interest in parapsychology related to an early conflict between science and religion. Do you think this tension, or longing, influenced your conclusions?

CHARLES: No. I have two guiding forces in my life. The first is that I hate to be fooled under any circumstances. And that makes me a very good scientist. I’m more critical of methodology in psi experiments than many scientists who take comparatively skeptical positions. My second guiding force is that I’d like there to be a bigger and more interesting universe, with meaning in it. So my way of dealing with my childhood conflict between science and religion was to become a scientifically rigorous researcher in parapsychology, just like the people who started the Society for Psychical Research in the nineteenth century. I applied the basic scientific method of observing data and testing theories to this area of unusual experiences, in order to see what’s real and what’s not–to ascertain what is, indeed, superstition and nonsense left over from earlier times.

ROBERT: How do you react to the increasing prominence and strength of the skeptical community?

CHARLES: I wish there were a genuinely skeptical community. I’m afraid that just about every skeptic I’ve ever met is what I call a pseudoskeptic. A real skeptic says, “I don’t know about parapsychology and psi, and the explanations we have so far don’t satisfy me. I want to look at the data.” But the skeptics I’ve encountered claim to know already that there’s nothing to it, and then they break all sorts of rules of scientific procedure to go about their debunking. Skepticism, as it is generally practiced, is neither legitimate science nor legitimate criticism.

ROBERT: Isn’t it legitimate help when skeptics expose all the ridiculous claims that encrust serious parapsychology with absurdities?

CHARLES: That might have been true a hundred years ago, but the methodology in parapsychology has become so good, and parapsychologists are so thorough in their own criticism of one another’s experiments, that the matter is pretty well handled.

ROBERT: But there are abundant common frauds, silly stories of ESP defying all credulity that circulate widely in the media. Furthermore, if the data are so robust, why do we have, right here, scientists on opposite sides? What is it about parapsychology that gives the field such weak acceptance?

MARILYN: I’m reminded of the joke that there are three stages in the skeptical acceptance of unorthodox ideas. First, the critics will say, “There’s nothing in that data.” Then, as you acquire more data, the second stage comes up: “Well, there might be something to it, but it’s such a small effect that it’s meaningless.” And you acquire more data and show its relevance, and then the skeptical community says, “Of course, we knew it all along; so where have you been?”

ROBERT: Jim seems comfortably set in the first stage; Barry is, too, but he’s also glancing at the second stage.

MARILYN: If we can give serious skeptics some education about the data, I think their stage could well change.

ROBERT: We’ll arrange for Marilyn [Schlitz] to give Jim [Trefil] and Barry [Beyerstein] the results of her experiments. Then we’ll get back together in the future–that’s a promise.

MARILYN: I want to comment about the contribution of open-minded skeptics, because I feel that they can make a great contribution to parapsychology. There’s a lot of nonsense that dominates our culture. People are led down blind alleys and come to believe very strange things. General skepticism, therefore, is good for all of us. I agree with Dean [Radin] that parapsychologists themselves are inherently skeptical, and I agree with Charles [Tart] that those of us collecting this data don’t want to be fooled. But I’ve seen examples within the skeptical community where they are really helping us to refine our protocols and sharpen our critical skills.

ROBERT: That’s a major contribution.

MARILYN: Yes, it is. There’s a lot of room for healthy debate within the parapsychological community such that we can begin to move the field forward.

ROBERT: If there’s genuine search for truth, parapsychologists and skeptical scientists make a great combination.

JIM: I’ve been involved in other areas of science where there’s been a great deal of skepticism–for example, the skepticism greeting the theory that the dinosaurs were wiped out by the effects of an asteroid impact. I saw how the scientific community, driven by data, changed its mind and generally accepted this theory over a period of time. I just don’t see that happening in parapsychology–it hasn’t happened for a hundred years.

BARRY: I think Charles [Tart] is making a stereotype of what skeptics are. What he said doesn’t jibe with the kind of skeptics that I know. It’s not just that these supposed events are weird. We all accept quantum mechanics–which is totally counterintuitive–because it produces results. Quantum mechanics is replicable, it gives better explanations, and it makes predictions that turn out to be verified in experiments. There were many skeptical physicists; Albert Einstein himself went to his grave still figuring there was something wrong with it. But quantum mechanics is not controversial anymore, because it has delivered the goods. And this is what parapsychology has yet to do. If it turns out that ESP or psi research does come up with something that tips the scales, then I don’t know very many skeptics who would be any more skeptical about it than we are about quantum mechanics.

ROBERT: Dean, let’s go on to something different. What is field consciousness? Give us some examples of how it may work.

DEAN: Field consciousness is a relatively new finding about what may happen when people get together in a group–say, as a choral group or a sports team–and they feel that something “just gels.” Everyone is working together perfectly and there’s a sense of coherence within the group. The same technology that we use to study mind-over-matter [psychokinetic] effects in the laboratory are applied to these situations to investigate whether there’s something paranormal happening here.

ROBERT: Give us an example.

DEAN: Take an electronic random-number generator, which is like a coin flipper. The traditional experiments are one-to-one, with one generator and one person who tries to change the distribution, essentially, of heads and tails. The only difference, in field consciousness studies, is that you take this random-number generator and put it in the vicinity of a group that’s doing something together, where there are moments of strong coherence–for example, during group meditation. The objective is to ascertain whether the act of coherence among a group is reflected as statistical anomalies in the random-number generator. There have been now something like seventy or eighty experiments of this kind in the past two years, and the grand accumulation of data suggests that something unusual does happen.

ROBERT: You’ve also used events on a grander scale, where very large populations are involved–such as when much of the world was tuned into the opening of the Olympics or the verdict in the O. J. Simpson trial–and come up with what you think is compelling data.

DEAN: This is the beginning of a new experimental area, but initial experiments suggest that something like a “mass mind” effect might really exist–that when we have millions of minds thinking about the same thing, something happens.

ROBERT: Charles, give us some real-world examples of psychic phenomena.

CHARLES: During the Second World War, a friend of mine came home very tired from her defense job and fell sound asleep. Suddenly, in the middle of the night, she finds herself leaping out of bed and standing in the middle of the floor with a feeling of absolute horror. She has no idea what the absolute horror is about, and so she starts to feel silly after a while. She stands there for about thirty seconds, and then the house rumbles a little bit. She thinks maybe it’s a minor earthquake, and she looks at the clock and goes back to bed. The next day she discovers that the Port Chicago Munitions Shipping Facility had blown up at the time she leaped out of bed, and the little rumble was the time it took the shock wave to go from Port Chicago to Berkeley. Was she responding to the horror of hundreds of people suddenly being killed and maimed? This is the kind of anomalous experience that happens to people in everyday life.

ROBERT: You’ve heard the following argument: Because every night so many people have so many nightmares about so many things, random coincidences like your friend’s sudden waking timed with the munitions explosion must occur rather frequently. It’s statistically mandated, though it’s surely random. But when the random coincidence happens to one individual, it feels very special, even though it isn’t. An analogy is winning the lottery–that’s completely random, but to the winner it’s very special.

CHARLES: The argument is a correct one, which is why we parapsychologists took all this psychic stuff into the laboratory almost a hundred years ago. We knew what coincidence was, and we had to rule it out conclusively.

ROBERT: Dean, do you have any amazing stories?

DEAN: Most of my amazing stories happen in the laboratory, for exactly the reason that Charles [Tart] just said. But the anecdotes are really compelling. I’ve had experiences like that in my life, and you’re absolutely right: it could be coincidence. So as a scientist I want to know whether, in principle, these coincidences could be some form of parapsychological phenomena.

ROBERT: The challenge is to investigate spontaneous, real-world psi phenomena in a controlled, scientific manner.

MARILYN: One parapsychologist did a study correlating the numbers of people who rode on trains on days when there were train wrecks with the numbers of people riding trains on average, safe days. Over the course of time, it looked as though there were significantly fewer passengers riding on the days of train wrecks. He also did some interesting work with business executives, assessing the incidence of psychic phenomena among people who were at top levels. The results indicated that high-level executives scored better than the average population on ESP, which suggests that these very successful people may be using certain kinds of psychic abilities in everyday life, in ordinary practice. Maybe they aren’t labeling it psychic; certainly they don’t considering it weird. But these successful executives may be, in fact, harnessing and employing psychic ability every day of their lives.

ROBERT: Dean, if a person is psychic but feels funny about admitting it, he may say he has a hunch or is just intuitive. That’s our social protection. What are the standards of good science here? We normally talk about the replicability of evidence.

DEAN: Right. The gold standard of empirical science is whether an effect can be independently replicated by lots of people over a long period of time, and also whether conceptual replication can be shown–because, obviously, if you do exactly the same experiment and the experiment has a flaw in it, you just repeat the flaw. So in my book I focused on meta-analysis, combining many experiments in different classes of parapsychology to see whether replication exists, and comparing the results from parapsychology with those from other areas of science. The answer, very clearly, is yes, there is replication by many different people over long periods of time, and conceptual replication, in at least a few classes of parapsychological work.

BARRY: My trouble is that for the last twenty years I’ve been asking my psychology students to try replicating classic parapsychological experiments, without any positive results whatsoever. Since I have a random-number generator in my lab, other people from the community would come to ask my help in conducting ESP-type experiments. I’ve had psychics try to beat my random-number generator.

ROBERT: How have they done?

BARRY: Zip. Nothing. I just can’t get any replication in these things.

MARILYN: To that I would argue that one can make the same kind of case for musical ability. To conclude that there’s some genuine anomaly present, it doesn’t necessarily have to be distributed evenly among the entire population.

BARRY: But I’ve done that. We’ve had people come in who claim to have psychic ability and they fall flat on their faces, too, just like my students.

DEAN: Are you claiming that you never get significant results?

BARRY: I’m saying [I get] nothing more than chance would predict.

DEAN: OK, but you’re getting a distribution of results, some of which are positive and some negative.

BARRY: Individual trials and even individual persons may produce skewed results. If you run the random-number generator a hundred times, five of them, on average, will come out above chance. So the results match our statistical predictions for random behavior.

MARILYN: My experiments with Richard Wiseman–who is a member, recall, of the skeptical community–suggest that maybe there’s something inherent in the experimenter’s ability to elicit these kinds of phenomena.

BARRY: I like to take students who come to me because they want to prove me wrong. I give them the equipment, send them off and say, “OK, if it’s bad vibes from me, fine–I’ll be gone.” Some of these students have actually refused to give me their data, because they were so embarrassed when nothing nonrandom happened.

DEAN: One of the problems here is that many scientists don’t understand the meaning of statistics in the behavioral sciences. They’re thinking of the type of precision you get in the physical sciences–which, of course, is substantially more precise than that in the behavioral sciences. Most conditions of human behavior are so variable that you need a much higher power of statistical analysis in order to pull out the significances.

ROBERT: This means more trials in the experiments and different mathematics in the analysis.

DEAN: Yes. If the underlying effect is very small, you need the right kind of statistics to come out with a significant result.

ROBERT: It makes me nervous when such a small effect is supporting a field that’s challenging basic assumptions of the physical world.

DEAN: The effect is not so small. Sometimes the effects look small, but this is because the sum totals are the combined results of positive correlations and negative correlations canceling each other out.

ROBERT: A correlation of minus-one, which means a zero-percent relationship, is just as strong as a correlation of plus-one, which means a hundred-percent relationship.

CHARLES: If something is consistently wrong, it’s just as useful as if something is consistently right. You just reverse the predictions.

BARRY: It’s consistency that’s the problem.

ROBERT: There are two opposing points here, both rather fun. On the one hand, it’s conceivable that positive and negative correlations exist often in parapsychology, each representing massively significant psi; but since the positives and negatives are so entangled and can’t be teased apart, they’re constantly canceling each other out, so that the combined effect always appears minuscule. On the other hand, this argument does seem the perfect rationalization for little or nothing going on.

ROBERT: Jim, why are mainstream scientists reluctant to get involved, either as skeptics or participants, in this whole field?

JIM: It’s about as risky as you can get.

MARILYN: So little money is allocated to parapsychology compared to any mainstream science.

ROBERT: Since the implications of parapsychology are so potentially momentous, why is a little risk such a deterrent to adventuresome scientists?

JIM: Let’s look at this from the point of view of the scientist. The one bit of capital you have as a scientist is your research time, which is always limited. In building your career, you have to decide where you’re going to spend your time and what the chances are of a payoff. When I look at parapsychology, I see a long history with no payoff. I don’t see any payoff upcoming. Speaking personally, I wouldn’t do it. I have great admiration for people like Barry [Beyerstein] who get involved in the skeptical analyses, but frankly there’s very little reward for such work in the scientific community. You don’t get career-making points for skepticism.

ROBERT: Do you think that’s good?

JIM: No, I don’t think it’s good, but it’s a fact, OK? An individual scientist is much better off putting effort into normal research in a mainstream discipline than going off into a field like parapsychology, or even getting involved in opposing it, as a skeptic. There’s just no payoff.

ROBERT: Charles, have you had a payoff?

CHARLES: Speaking as a parapsychologist, it’s even more complicated than that. Not only don’t you get any points for doing parapsychological research, you’ll probably lose your university job if you do! This is especially true if you get positive results. This is historical fact; it’s happened in many cases.

ROBERT: That sounds contrary to the ideals of scientific inquiry.

CHARLES: The academic world is not as open-minded as it’s supposed to be, sad to say. But there’s a deeper level that, as a psychologist, interests me greatly. It’s only been a few hundred years since we burned people at the stake who we thought had strong psychic powers. Some of my own research shows that many people, under their conscious exteriors, harbor diffuse fears and emotional ambivalence about psychic results. Parapsychology is not a neutral topic–it affects people quite deeply.

ROBERT: Nobody will be burned at the stake today. We’re going to take predictions. One hundred years from now, will parapsychology be recognized as a mainstream science?

DEAN: I think the answer is yes, but it won’t be called parapsychology anymore. It’ll be absorbed into mainstream science.

MARILYN: I would agree with Dean [Radin], and I think parapsychology is going to be applied to things like health care.

BARRY: I would actually like to agree, too, but I don’t hold much hope that it will actually happen. If the data are there, then it’s no longer “para” anything, it’s part of physics or part of physiology, or both. If data come in a way that skeptics can accept, then parapsychology can fold its tent and become part of mainstream science.

ROBERT: But that’s not going to happen?

BARRY: No, I’m not expecting that to happen.

JIM: I think we’ll go along in the next century pretty much as we’ve gone along in the last century. There will be people who keep trying to establish parapsychology as a legitimate field of science, and it just won’t happen.

CHARLES: I’m between the optimists and the pessimists. I think we’ll have reasonable practical applications in which psychic abilities can help. Even more important, we’ll be looking at the implications of psychic phenomena for our transpersonal or spiritual nature. That’s what will be really important.

ROBERT: CONCLUDING COMMENT

ABOUT one fact there is no dispute. Paranormal phenomena have persisted in virtually every culture, and the varieties of such puzzling events are endless. How to explain it all? I think there are three possibilities. One, the paranormal does not exist and all the perplexing reports can be dismissed as illusion, delusion, misguided hope, mistaken belief, laboratory error, or furtive fraud. Two, the paranormal does exist and science will ultimately solve all these puzzles, perhaps using the counterintuitive concepts of quantum theory or something similar. Three, the paranormal does exist, but science in its present form can never get at it. We will have to wait, until one of these alternatives brings us closer to truth.

Editor’s Comments:

Marilyn Schlitz notes that

“One parapsychologist did a study correlating the numbers of people who rode on trains on days when there were train wrecks with the numbers of people riding trains on average, safe days. Over the course of time, it looked as though there were significantly fewer passengers riding on the days of train wrecks. He also did some interesting work with business executives, assessing the incidence of psychic phenomena among people who were at top levels. The results indicated that high-level executives scored better than the average population on ESP, which suggests that these very successful people may be using certain kinds of psychic abilities in everyday life, in ordinary practice. Maybe they aren’t labeling it psychic; certainly they don’t considering it weird. But these successful executives may be, in fact, harnessing and employing psychic ability every day of their lives.

Robert Lawrence Kuhn notes that

“If a person is psychic but feels funny about admitting it, he may say he has a hunch or is just intuitive. That’s our social protection.”

Charles Tart notes that

“It’s only been a few hundred years since we burned people at the stake who we thought had strong psychic powers. Some of my own research shows that many people, under their conscious exteriors, harbor diffuse fears and emotional ambivalence about psychic results. Parapsychology is not a neutral topic–it affects people quite deeply.”

Beneath our veneer of rationality, atavistic fears lurk, unacknowledged. In fact whatever PSI abilities modern humans have inherited from our ancestors and have retained into the modern era, are entirely natural and “normal.” As Marilyn Schlitz notes, these abilities may even have enormous, unrecognized survival value. It is only our prejudicial “rationalist” mindset that has cast them in an undeservedly negative light.

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: What is Parapsychology?
Illustration(s): Barry Beyerstein, Dean Radin, Marilyn Schlitz, Charles Tart, James Trefil, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Source: http://www.closertotruth.com/topics/mindbrain/212/212transcript.html
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Can Science Seek the Soul? (科學能搜尋到靈魂嗎?)

Can Science Seek the Soul? (科學能搜尋到靈魂嗎?)
[創意組織 ]
(2003/08/28)

Can Science Seek the Soul?

DO you have a soul? Are you a soul? What is a soul? Why do so many people in so many cultures believe in an immortal soul, while so many scientists do not? In lives often capricious and filled with despair, belief in an immortal soul offers hope for the forlorn and comfort for the bereaved. This spiritual essence, which is somehow associated with each human being, is said to transcend death, offering a promise of better tomorrows than todays. But given the remarkable advances in neuroscience–the physics, chemistry, and biology of understanding how the brain senses, thinks, feels, and behaves–most scientist are materialists, who believe that only the physical is real. Materialists reject dualism, denying that any independent, nonphysical component–call it a soul–is part of our makeup. Can science seek the soul? History records ancient and protracted conflict between science and religion, and the battles still rage. To hear from all sides, we invited five soul-savvy experts.

PARTICIPANTS

Dr. Warren Brown is a professor of psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, where he is director of research at the Psychophysical Laboratory. A committed Christian, Warren surprises us by denying the necessity of a traditional Christian soul.

Dr. Dean Radin, an experimental psychologist, is the former director of the Consciousness Research Laboratory at the University of Nevada. Though Dean believes that scientific research validates extrasensory perception and other psychic phenomena, he, too, doubts that good evidence supports the existence of a soul.

Dr. John Searle, the Mills Professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley and the author of numerous books about the mind, takes a rigorous approach to consciousness and a dim view of a disembodied soul.

Dr. Charles Tart, a professor of psychology emeritus at the University of California, Davis, is now at the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology, in Palo Alto. Charles believes that we need both science and spirituality to make us human.

Fred Alan Wolf, a theoretical physicist, is an international lecturer and author of many books on physics and the mind. Fred envisions spiritual underpinnings to all existence.

ROBERT: Charles, your recent book, Body, Mind, Spirit, propounds the importance of spirituality. What’s the relationship between the existence of the soul, if such a noncorporeal entity exists, and spirituality?

CHARLES: Spirituality is predicated on the idea that human life is more than just a short-term show here and now, with nothing ever to happen after we die–that there are long-term consequences. This idea can have enormous impact on how people live their lives. Personally, I don’t think the deciding factor should be belief–that we should just either believe in souls or spirituality or not believe in them. I think we should look at the evidence that there is something that transcends death, that transcends the physical body. And I find there’s some evidence for just such an assertion, which makes spirituality much more interesting to me than if it were just a belief.

ROBERT: And if solid evidence could demonstrate life beyond death, and/or mind beyond the body, how would that affect our lives?

CHARLES: It would affect our lives a great deal. Suppose you know you’re going to die in a short while. What are you going to do with your last hours?

ROBERT: I’m going to do more shows like this. Do you think that’s a good investment for the really long term?

CHARLES: I think it is.

ROBERT: Fred, your book The Spiritual Universe claims to use scientific methods to prove that the soul exists. How can you use physical methods to prove the existence of something that’s not physical?

FRED: First of all, we have to define what we mean by a soul. If we can get a definition that lends itself to some scientific test of probability, then we could prove its existence. I think we already have enough groundwork to start the search: there’s enough in the way the physical universe is constructed to indicate the presence of something called soul. Where I begin looking for this soul is in the nature of quantum mechanics, or quantum physics, which says that there may be spiritual underpinnings to the physical world.

ROBERT: Warren, you’re a neuroscientist and a psychologist–and also a committed Christian. You’ve coedited a book called Whatever Happened to the Soul? So tell us, what happened?

WARREN: The position we take in the book is that the idea of the soul as a separate metaphysical entity isn’t necessary to explain humankind. That doesn’t mean that God doesn’t exist or that there’s no spiritual world. But it does mean that you don’t have to add a nonphysical element to our physical nature in order to explain what it means to be human.

ROBERT: Denying the existence of an immortal soul doesn’t sound like Christian orthodoxy, even to my unordained theological ears.

WARREN: Right. Most Christians would probably find the negation of immortal souls a tough road to travel, but this is what I would call nonessential theology. That belief is not a critical point for most Christian theology.

ROBERT: John, you’ve been a leader in the rediscovery of the mind, the title of one of your many books. But rediscovering the mind does not mean defending the existence of the soul?

JOHN: It depends on what you mean by the soul. There are different definitions of “soul,” and so because of this confusion I don’t find the notion of soul much use. There is Aristotle’s notion of soul, which is a kind of principle of organization of the body. And I have no objection to that. And if by “soul” you just mean “mind,” I’m all for it. But there’s another definition of soul–which we get from Descartes, and dualists, and so on–which says that there’s this thing attached to your body, and when your brain and body are destroyed this thing is going to cut loose and have a life of its own. Now, that’s very comforting to believe, but I’ve never seen any evidence for it. All the experiences I’ve ever had were caused by processes in my brain. And it’s kind of depressing, but it turns out, as far as I can tell, that when my brain goes, those experiences go. I’m not going to have any soul after the destruction of my brain, any more than I’m going to have any digestion after the destruction of my stomach.

ROBERT: Dean, your book The Conscious Universe claims to apply scientific methods to the investigation of the paranormal, or psi phenomena. Can the same kinds of methodologies be used to assess the soul?

DEAN: Yes, these same kinds of methodologies can be, and actually have been, applied to search for after-death phenomena. Now you might think that as a parapsychologist I would be highly sympathetic to the idea of the existence of a soul, but in fact I’m fairly doubtful that, so far, we have any good evidence for something like a soul–something that actually survives bodily death.

ROBERT: In the early days of parapsychology, research focused on after-death survival and out-of-body and near-death experiences. There were many investigations of mediums and seances, where supposed spirits of the dead would come back to communicate with the living. Such survival research is no longer the focus of parapsychology. Why?

DEAN: It’s true that parapsychology began pretty much as a study of mediumistic phenomena. But within a matter of a decade or less, it had transitioned into laboratory studies of phenomena like telepathic communication between a medium and what was thought to be the departed loved one. The reason for the transition was that if telepathy proved to be a real phenomenon, it would cast enormous doubt on just what or whom a medium was actually communicating with.

ROBERT: It isn’t easy–even if you believe in psi–to distinguish between a medium reading the minds of the living relatives or truly communicating with the dead. So has survival research, at least in this technical sense, become less important to this question?

DEAN: No, I think it’s still very important. It just turns out to be extremely difficult to find a valid empirical way of testing for survival that excludes the possibility of telepathy.

ROBERT: Do you agree with that, Charles?

CHARLES: I want to qualify that a little bit. When you look at the old mediumistic research, of course you find a lot of nonsense there. But occasionally an ostensible communicator says very specific things about his or her past life–things that could not possibly have been known to the medium. So you’ve got to postulate either that there’s a surviving soul of some sort that can communicate, or that the medium has great psychic abilities to pull this information out.

ROBERT: There is a lot going on here. First, you are assuming that such “very specific things” could truly not have been known by normal means, even through subconscious communication–which must be shown to be statistically significant amidst the innumerable clutter of ordinary specific things that would not be so surprising. Next, if you could jump this first hurdle, I would agree that you still have the serious logical problem of not being able to eliminate the possibility that the medium was apprehending the surprising information through strong psychic ability and not through communication with a surviving after-death spirit or soul. Such psychic knowing would include not only telepathy, where the medium would read the minds of living people, but also clairvoyance, where the medium would somehow sense the surprising information directly without any person needing to know it, and irrespective of whether it was past or present.

CHARLES: This dual track for knowing makes the question of proving survival per se very difficult. On the other hand, if some people have minds that can access any information in the cosmos, without any known bodily limits, that’s the sort of mind we think might survive death, isn’t it? So, survival research is not a dead issue, if I may use that word–it’s just a complicated issue.

ROBERT: Warren, how have you approached the soul from a scientific point of view? You run a neurophysiological lab, and you’re interested in brain damage; you confront fundamental interactions of brain and mind when working with your patients. In addition, and equally important to our discourse here, you have a strong commitment to evangelical Christianity–the received Christian tradition, the Old and New Testaments. How do these different lines of knowledge and/or belief all come together in a scientific search for the soul?

WARREN: One thing you know from neurophysiology is that brain damage or brain malfunction causes changes in states of consciousness, awareness, and even, in a number of situations, in people’s understanding of their own spirituality. An easy example is temporal lobe epilepsy, where a person can, in some circumstances, have an experience that seems quite religious. But we know that these experiences are in fact embodied in their physical brains, and there’s no need to postulate a soul to explain the phenomenon.

ROBERT: How do you reconcile your views on a nonessential or nonexistent soul with your Christian belief?

WARREN: For this view of a nonexistent soul to stand within Christian theology, you do have to agree, or to postulate, that God exists, that God is spiritual, that our spirituality represents our ability to be in a spiritual relationship to God. But it’s not necessary to postulate that we possess a spirit, another entity that influences or determines our behavior and our experiences.

ROBERT: Charles, one of your more well-known books is Altered States of Consciousness. In temporal lobe epilepsy, Warren is talking about a particular kind of altered state, which has at times been shown to cause religious experiences.

WARREN: Associated with religious experiences, not shown to cause them.

ROBERT: I accept the careful distinction. So, Charles, bring us up to date on your use of altered states to demonstrate the existence of worlds beyond the physical, especially in this context of brain research providing us with incontrovertible evidence that there are physical causes for seemingly spiritual experiences.

CHARLES: We’re mixing up several things here. My interest in altered states is to make clear that the mind can work in very different patterns. And these very different patterns–whether meditative states, drug-induced states, hypnosis, dreams, and the like–are good for some things and bad for other things. Collectively, they give us different views of the world. But in terms of proving that there’s something beyond the physical, or even that these altered states are more than merely subjective phenomena or brain-based phenomena, altered states provide no such proof per se. Altered states give you a great experience, and they may give you a conviction, but that’s not the same as proving that the mind is something more than the body.

ROBERT: Can you take the next step and seek proof of a new reality beyond the physical?

CHARLES: This is where you get into parapsychological research, where you set up experiments. In the materialist worldview, it’s assumed that the physical senses give us all there is to know about the nature of the world, and that it’s impossible for people to communicate without the senses. So you do the careful experiments to see whether you can get some nonsensory communications between people. Or whether people can learn about or affect things at a distance. Do you get a statistically significant effect in your experiments? This is your basic parapsychological approach. And we do get extraordinary data frequently enough that, as a scientist, I have no doubt that sometimes a human mind can do things that we can’t attribute to anything we know about neurophysiology or conventional physics. This basic scientific finding says to me that I should consider ideas about spirituality more seriously, because there’s actual evidence for it. This isn’t a philosophical position, it’s experimental science; the mind can do things that the brain can’t do.

ROBERT: You like to think of yourself both as a tough-minded scientist and as someone seriously interested in the spiritual. How do you reconcile the two worldviews?

CHARLES: I’m a human being and I have many facets, and if I identify exclusively with any one of them I’m leaving out part of my humanity. But I don’t want to be fooled, OK? I don’t want to believe things just because they make me feel good. I want the best science possible to check on the possibility of certain beliefs. On the other hand, I don’t want to fall into scientism–into taking the latest physical theories as if they were revealed truth and believing that since we know so much about everything, we don’t have to pay attention to any contradictory evidence. I believe that we do have evidence that mind can transcend what we know about the physical body and brain. To me, that’s a vital underpinning for spirituality.

JOHN: Well, some people think we have such evidence. I have serious doubts that we have any solid evidence showing that the mind can transcend the brain. What we do have, and I hope Charles would agree with this, is a long history–particularly in our civilization, but in other civilizations as well–of all kinds of strange experiences that people have. There’s no question that people have mystical experiences. They have all kinds of altered states of consciousness. But so far, nothing follows. And I think Charles would agree with that. Just from having these kooky experiences, nothing whatever follows.

ROBERT: “Kooky” is a pejorative term.

JOHN: OK, sorry–these unusual experiences. Actually, I don’t mind calling these experiences kooky. To me, it’s not pejorative. I love kooky experiences. But some people might think it’s pejorative. The interesting question is, Do we have solid evidence that some guy can sit on this side of the room and bend spoons on the other side? I would want a stricter scientific methodology employed in these cases, because the kind of cases I know where people purport to bend spoons are very unconvincing.

FRED: We’re looking in the wrong direction. The assumption everybody here is making is that only the physical is real. It’s now clear that what’s physical can’t even be contained in the physical. For example, a magnetic field exists in space and time, and there’s no physicality to a magnetic field. It’s not mass and it’s not energy, in that sense, yet we describe it and construct metaphors for it–it’s wavy, it has lines of force, and so on–because description and metaphor is what we do. So we have a metaphor for the body–that it’s a massive thing–and everything else has to be contained within it. But there’s clear evidence of a subjective nature, of a spiritual essence, which indicates that people have memories of things that they could not possibly remember from their life experiences. Spoon bending may or may not be phony; I don’t know about that. But there’s evidence for spiritual connections that transcend the individual “I”.

ROBERT: Fred, you’ve sought the nature of soul by searching some of the Eastern traditions and religions. Why should we, as we begin the twenty-first century, look to ancient traditions to give us knowledge about what we are?

FRED: Because of what Lenin said about the Russian Revolution: “One step forward, two steps back.” You need to look back in time in order to see where we’ve been going. It turns out that there are ancient spiritual traditions–for example, Cabala [the esoteric interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures by rabbinical mystics], or the beliefs of the ancient people of Chaldea, around the Tigris and Euphrates–that depict the nature of spirit and soul and consciousness in a way reminiscent of how quantum physics would speak of the vacuum of space. The vacuum of space as the home of the soul or the spirit. Are vibrations in the apparent nothingness of space the consciousness effervescence of which we all partake? And the memories that we all have? We think, Oh, that’s only my memory. But your brain is a million years old; it has its own memories.

ROBERT: Warren, you seem a little amused by all this. How would you evaluate Fred’s view of collective memories?

WARREN: Well, it’s on a level that, within my area of science, is just very difficult to deal with. One can postulate ancient nonphysical entities as being a part of who I am now, in that sense. I certainly would suggest that God exists, and that there is a spiritual universe. And what we have in ancient religious traditions are some changing attempts to represent that spiritual universe. But whether those ancient traditions have anything directly to do with my self and my consciousness–that’s a big leap for me.

ROBERT: Charles [Tart] and Fred [Wolf], in your writings both of you seem to dethrone, or delegitimize, science-centered materialism, based on the following argument: Science has lost its right to explain the world with any overarching authority, since science has caused more bad things than good things throughout history. The argument continues that we need to look to other systems of knowing rather than traditional science to help us comprehend reality. But doesn’t your argument confuse morality with reality? My opinion–which I do give from time to time–is that it doesn’t matter what science produces. Results are irrelevant; truth is amoral.

CHARLES: You’re putting me in a box where I’m not going to let you put me, Robert. I have nothing against science, and I don’t attribute the bad things in the world to science–I never have. What people do with the truths discovered by science is a matter of morality and intelligence. That’s a different issue. What I object to is scientism.

ROBERT: Scientism being a belief system in which science and the scientific method are virtually omniscient, able to discern all truth.

CHARLES: What I object to is science always being an open-ended process–always saying, “Let’s keep looking at the data,” “Here’s what we make of it,” “This is our best guess at the time.” What I object to is when these “best guesses” turn into a religion. Consider a situation where someone has a spiritual experience–and I’ve counseled many such people–and he or she mentions the experience in front of someone who’s “scientific,” and the listener says, “That’s impossible! You must be crazy!” That attitude I don’t like. That dismissal of people’s actual experiences is not good science. It’s arrogance in the guise of science. That’s scientism.

FRED: My major concern, coming out of the ranks of science, has been my own arrogance. How arrogant I was, to put down other people’s ideas that didn’t agree with my scientific view. When I went around the world and spent time with indigenous peoples and tribes, I realized that my arrogance just didn’t fit in. Like the man in the story by H. G. Wells, I thought that in the country of the scientifically blind, the one-eyed man would be king. In fact, I was the one who was blind. I was intellectually incapacitated. As long as I held on to my scientific view, I couldn’t see. I thought I saw everything; I didn’t see anything. So I had to give up much of what I previously held as real, in order to see what these people saw. And when I was finally able to attain this new vision, it totally changed my view of science. And I began seeing science as a tool–not the be-all and end-all of the universe, but a tool to help us begin to dig deeper into the nature of what it means to be a human being. I don’t think we’ve arrived at that point yet. I don’t think we’re quite awake yet. I think we’re all still asleep–dreaming, hoping, wishing–mechanically relying on our intellect to lead us out of the morass in which we constantly find ourselves. When we can use our heart and our spirit as well as our brain, that’s when science will begin to adapt to a new world order.

ROBERT: Charles, how does spirituality affect people’s lives? You deal with “transpersonal psychology.” What does that mean?

CHARLES: Human beings have a need for meaning. They have a need for feeling that they’re part of something larger than themselves. Biological gratification is not enough. Some of the kinds of meanings humanity has created have been unreasonable. We need something deeper. Our traditional religions used to provide meaning for people, telling them, “You don’t just exist alone; you’re part of a big picture of the world–and there are things you should do and things you shouldn’t do.” These traditional religions aren’t working for a lot of people anymore, because they’re based too much on beliefs, many of which don’t fit in with what we know scientifically about the world. We need a practical spirituality that is consistent with our scientific knowledge.

ROBERT: What does “practical spirituality” mean?

CHARLES: Practical spirituality isn’t just a set of ideas but also involves the heart; however, the heart must be an educated heart. For example, one of the practical spiritual ideas that has revolutionized my personal life is the understanding that emotions can be trained to be intelligent, to tell us something about the world. Emotions need to be balanced with intelligence, intuition, and the like. I agree with Fred [Wolf] here.

JOHN: I don’t see this opposition that you make between biology and nature on the one hand and spirituality on the other, because this human need for meaning and transcendence is as much biologically based as any other human need. That is, it’s part of our genetic structure, and part of our culture. Sure, we would like to find things that transcend the stupidity and mediocrity of most everyday existence. But I don’t see a conflict between these natural longings and the rest of nature. Transcendent needs are part of nature.

FRED: The problem with that view [i.e., the desire for transcendence is entirely generated by personal biology] is that it leads to separation, to isolation, to aloneness, to feelings of not being part of something–whereas our natural inclination is to be part of a community.

JOHN: These are old categories, like science versus non-science, mind versus body. These categories are obsolete.

FRED: I agree.

JOHN: It’s just knowledge. Let’s find out how the world works. Sometimes, when society is satisfied enough about how some part of the world works so that you can get a grant for doing research on it, then people are willing to call it science. I don’t care if they call what I do “science.” It doesn’t matter. As long as we get at the truth, who cares if it’s science? And if we have all kinds of strange phenomena, they’re worthy of study.

ROBERT: Don’t you find it fascinating that biological systems, in your terms, have a need for meaning? Did that evolve?

JOHN: Absolutely fascinating. And of course it evolved. There isn’t any doubt about it. There isn’t any doubt that human beings, with our pathetic forty-six chromosomes and a hundred billion neurons, have evolved this tremendous intellectual capacity for transcending the stupidity and mediocrity of most of the things that fill our ordinary lives. That’s what makes life interesting.

DEAN: Right. And so the key question is, “What is the nature of the scientific evidence that supports spirituality?”. And by spirituality, I assume we mean something like transcending the ordinary boundaries of space and time.

ROBERT: What evidence of such spirituality can meet the traditional standards of science?

DEAN: I was struck by John’s remark earlier, about spoon bending. Of course the scientific evidence for spoon bending is very, very poor. In popular culture, spoon bending is all that most people know about psychic research. But in fact there’s a huge body of additional research, much of it published in mainstream journals, which says that there are anomalies out there, affirmed by strong scientific evidence, that support ideas of spirituality.

JOHN: I welcome all the facts we can lay our hands on. I certainly don’t want to suggest that we shouldn’t accumulate all these data, but there’s a mistake that I think we want to avoid. We shouldn’t assume that these data of anomalous phenomena are either fraudulent or else conclusive proof of the supernatural. There are all kinds of other possibilities. We have the “Clever Hans” history in the nineteenth century, Hans being a horse that appeared to do arithmetic, but it turned out that he was getting unconscious cues from the trainer. That was neither fraudulent nor did it demonstrate some supernatural power on the part of the horse. I take any anomalous data as just more evidence–more stuff with which we can work. If I don’t take it as evidence of a supernatural realm, neither do I take it as necessarily fraudulent.

WARREN: There’s a larger problem here–the nature of God’s action in the universe. But I don’t think it’s necessary to require the action of a soul within the psychological or mental mechanisms of a human being. We can understand all that human beings think and do as an embodied physical process, the complex workings of the brain, an emergent function of the kinds of things that the brain does.

ROBERT: Are there ethical implications of despiritualizing the soul?

WARREN: My coeditors and I had to address this issue in our book, Whatever Happened to the Soul? If you make human consciousness and free will a cognitive process, you have the problem of dealing with the cognitively impaired. So we ask about the essence of soul within the Christian religion, and we say that what “soul” is meant to convey is the nature and experiences of “personal relatedness.”

ROBERT: Are you saying, in your rather unconventional Christian view, that “soul” is more an adjective than a noun–a modifier of other things rather than a thing in itself?

WARREN: Yes. “Soul” is really an adjectival term; it connotes “soulish” or “soulishness.”

ROBERT: Define “soulishness,” with a practical example.

WARREN: Soulishness is personal relatedness. An application is when an individual who has diminished cognitive capacity is supported in a human community; here the soulishness or personal relatedness support is asymmetrical. The community can support an individual with diminished capacity, even though the handicapped person cannot reciprocate.

ROBERT: Are there ethical or spiritual implications of this asymmetric relationship?

WARREN: The ethical implication is that the community has a responsibility to maintain soulishness, a relatedness to the individual who has less capacity for reciprocating. The spiritual implications–and the ultimate example–is the concept of grace. Grace is God’s relationship with us at a level at which we are not capable of symmetrically relating back. We stand in an asymmetrical relationship with God.

ROBERT: Charles, how does Warren’s description of soulishness articulate with your own view of spirituality?

CHARLES: It’s too abstract. I want to bring this discussion back to a more concrete level. If you’re a Christian, prayer is a central aspect of your spirituality. Now, from a conventional scientific point of view, if the mind is nothing but electrochemical processes in the brain, when you pray you’re talking to yourself, and that’s the end of it. Maybe it makes you feel better, but then neuroscience will develop a drug that will make you feel better [quicker], too.

WARREN: This is why I say that the real problem goes back to the nature of God’s action in the universe.

ROBERT: Fred, how have people reacted to your book on the spiritual universe?

FRED: I’ve received very good responses–particularly from scientifically inclined people who feel that they’ve lost a sense of the spiritual. They want spirituality in their lives, but they feel that science has pulled the rug out from under their feet. They’re looking to books like mine to help reconcile their spiritual longings with their scientific understanding.

ROBERT: Charles, you have a Web site where scientists can explore their own spirituality.

CHARLES: That’s right. TASTE [an acronym for The Archives of Scientists’ Transcendent Experiences] is an online journal devoted to transcendent experiences that scientists have reported. On the Web site [www.issc-taste.org], scientists can anonymously post their own spiritual experiences in a psychologically and professionally safe space, without fear that they’ll be laughed at. Scientists have spiritual experiences, too–and, following on Fred’s point, they should know that there can be a reality to such experiences. Over the years many scientists, once they’ve realized I’m a safe person to talk to, have told me about unusual experiences they’ve had–but who later said, “Strange, it was incredible, it changed my life–except I thought, This must be crazy, it just can’t be so.” Too often I was the first and only person they ever told about their experiences, for fear of ridicule from their colleagues and adverse effects on their career. Such fears have, unfortunately, too much of a basis in fact–it’s the social conditioning of our times. I want to change that.

ROBERT: You’ve said that scientists today occupy a social role like that of “high priests,” proclaiming what is and isn’t “real,” and consequently what is and isn’t valuable and sane.

CHARLES: Unfortunately, the dominant materialistic and reductionistic climate of contemporary science (what sociologists long ago named scientism, an attitude different from the essential process of science), rejects and suppresses a priori both having and sharing transcendent, transpersonal and altered states (or “spiritual” and “psychic,” to use common words, in spite of their too vague connotations) experiences. From my perspective as a psychologist, this rejection and suppression distorts and harms scientists’ and laypersons’ transcendent (and other) potentials, and also inhibits the development of a genuine scientific understanding of the full spectrum of consciousness.

ROBERT: John, how do you react to reports of transcendent experiences?

JOHN: As I was suggesting earlier, there’s no question that people have all sorts of interesting, fascinating, strange experiences, and this ought to be a matter of great interest to us. But just from the existence of the experience by itself, nothing follows. It doesn’t follow that these people are in communication with the navel of the universe, or that there’s a separate realm that’s not part of the world we live in.

ROBERT: But to comprehend fully the human condition, we have to explore these transcendent experiences.

JOHN: Absolutely. It’s absolutely crucial to take all the data. And part of the data that we have about human life is that people have all sorts of experiences that transcend ordinary everyday mediocrity. This isn’t something to be lamented or sneered at. It’s something to be cherished and investigated.

WARREN: I’m not sure that “nothing follows” from a spiritual experience. From most of these experiences–particularly the ones related in culture and literature–a great deal follows. Changes can occur, such as in people’s beliefs and belief systems, how they conduct their lives, and how they relate to other people. I totally agree that from a scientific perspective of assessing reality, nothing follows–but from a personal perspective, a great deal follows.

JOHN: Nothing follows that could help us understand existence or reality.

WARREN: Exactly. But much follows in terms of personal perspective.

JOHN: I agree with that. When I say “nothing follows,” this means that if I have a mystical experience in which I sense the existence of God, for example, it does not follow that God exists in reality. My experience is just an experience.

WARREN: From a scientific point of view, I agree.

JOHN: From any point of view. I may have had the experience, and it may have been an interesting experience, but nothing follows about reality.

ROBERT: Warren, help us understand how your concept of soulishness works in real people.

WARREN: Soulishness, as I’ve said, is personal relatedness–deep and rich levels of personal relatedness. The interaction between a therapist and a client, for example, is really dealing with the soulishness of that client, with the interpersonal experience of relatedness. Soulishness is not something “out there”–it’s relatedness to other people, relatedness to the world.

ROBERT: Charles, does Warren’s [Brown] soulishness equate to your transpersonal psychology?

CHARLES: No. It’s good what he has there, but transpersonal psychology is about those experiences that seem to go beyond our biological limits. And to me the question is, “Is this possible?”.

ROBERT: The question is fundamental: Can the reach of the mind exceed the boundaries of the brain? Or are these mystical experiences simply triggered by random or chaotic biological processes in the brain?

CHARLES: I can program my computer to suddenly print out, “I have contacted the great Central Processing Unit in the sky, and now I know all knowledge.” And we would quite rightly regard that statement as nonsense. It’s just an arbitrary arrangement of electrons within the computer. If a person comes to me and says, “I’ve had a mystical experience. I’ve been in touch with a higher being, and have received certain truths–“

ROBERT: You’d get a doctor to prescribe a tranquilizer?

CHARLES: Well, if I were the doctor, would I prescribe a tranquilizer, or would I ask if there were a possibility that the mystical experience might be worth looking into? I think we have enough laboratory evidence so that I wouldn’t just dismiss these experiences as brain simulations of unrealities. There could be a nonphysical being; there could be communication through some extrasensory mechanism like telepathy, or something like that.

JOHN: I would reject the idea that if you have these intense experiences, either you’re in touch with the universe or you need a tranquilizer. There are all kinds of other possibilities as well.

ROBERT: I’m just worried about not giving the person that tranquilizer. Who knows what could happen?

CHARLES: Well, having such an experience could be dangerous, but remember, our baseline is that life is dangerous to begin with. We’re not always safe. But if people have such mystical experiences, and I tell them that there might be some reality there, how those people handle the experiences is a totally separate question. Is the person going to deal with a transcendent happening in a sane, mature way, or is he or she going to get inflated by the experience and go crazy with it?

JOHN: The way we think of therapeutic problems is already corrupted by our philosophical, religious, and scientific tradition. For example, we think that there’s a mind and a body and therefore there are diseases of the mind and diseases of the body–and that’s already a massive confusion. And it does an enormous amount of harm. For example, consider the placebo effect. You give a patient a sugar tablet, and if the patient gets better then the assumption is that there was nothing wrong in the first place. It doesn’t follow. You can have some very serious illnesses that are helped by placebo effects, and the assumption that therefore “there was nothing wrong with you” is based on the mind-body dualism that we should be militant against.

WARREN: I agree with that. I think the placebo effect is the best illustration of “something follows” in terms of what may result from my beliefs–where there’s a real physical outcome as expressed by my bodily immune system. So even if “nothing follows” in terms of making a metaphysical statement about God, these mystical experiences can clearly cause something that follows them.

ROBERT: But those are two different categories in which something may or may not follow from mystical experiences. The first category deals with the external world, the essence of the universe, the nature of reality–here’s where John [Searle] says “nothing follows.” The second category is the psychophysical aspects of the mind-body and how the mind affects the body–here’s where Warren says that “something follows.” It’s important to keep the two categories separate.

WARREN: Correct. My comments focused on the category of psychophysical interactions, where something does follow from mystical experiences. What doesn’t follow are any necessary statements about the existence of God or a spirit realm.

FRED: As human beings, we seek meaning in life, and if that meaning is eroded or destroyed by any system–whether scientism, religion, or philosophy–we’re in danger. We need to be open to possibilities.

DEAN: There’s a third category with which we can assess whether something or nothing follows from mystical experiences. We’ve been talking about the metaphysical and the psychophysical aspects of strange experiences. There’s also the category of just pure physics; because if somebody said that he had an amazing experience where he somehow understood things apprehended from far away without any sensory communications, I would wonder whether there was something funny about physics. I would not wonder so much about metaphysics or psychology. I would focus on what we can study in a physics laboratory–and then suddenly these strange experiences can have consequences that do follow.

FRED: There’s always something funny about physics, because physics is not the end of our understanding–it’s really just a beginning.

ROBERT: In summary, let’s project forward a hundred years. What more has happened to the soul?

CHARLES: We’ll have evidence that one mind can communicate with another, with no known channel to account for it–and this will be recognized as a mechanism for prayer.

JOHN: A hundred years from now, we’ll know enough about the brain so that the anomalous stuff we’re stuck with today will no longer seem so mysterious to us.

DEAN: Actually, I completely agree with John [Searle], but I also believe that our advanced knowledge will redefine what we think of the soul.

WARREN: I agree, but there will still be some mystery in the universe. We won’t be able to scientifically approach the idea of God’s action in the universe.

ROBERT: Are there any more mysteries that will remain?

FRED: All of the above. There will still be mystery, as we begin to realize that there’s something about us that’s not just brain, not just mind–and not just self, yourself, himself, herself, ourselves, but that there’s a unity to us all, of which each of us is a reflection. That unity will become very real for us.

ROBERT: CONCLUDING COMMENT

THE question of nonphysical souls, immortal or any other kind, may be more complex than commonly assumed. Scientists and theologians, it seems, are found on both sides of the Great Divide. I limit myself to a single question: Can science seek the soul? Is it within the realm of the scientific method to even address this question? My answer is yes, and no. Yes, in that the accumulating discoveries of brain function eliminate artificial mysteries, previously the province of the soul. No, in that there may remain certain kinds of knowledge that the scientific method cannot assess. Some say that we should combine science and theology harmoniously–but sometimes dichotomy, not harmony, brings us closer to truth.

Editor’s Comments:

Among the Closer to Truth round table discussions I have had the opportunity to read so far, this particular one has impressed me the most deeply. I was impressed in particular with the following observations by two eloquent debunkers of reductive materialism, Charles Tart and Fred Wolf.

CHARLES: … What I object to is scientism.

ROBERT: Scientism being a belief system in which science and the scientific method are virtually omniscient, able to discern all truth.

CHARLES: What I object to is science always being an open-ended process–always saying, “Let’s keep looking at the data,” “Here’s what we make of it,” “This is our best guess at the time.” What I object to is when these “best guesses” turn into a religion. Consider a situation where someone has a spiritual experience–and I’ve counseled many such people–and he or she mentions the experience in front of someone who’s “scientific,” and the listener says, “That’s impossible! You must be crazy!” That attitude I don’t like. That dismissal of people’s actual experiences is not good science. It’s arrogance in the guise of science. That’s scientism.

FRED: My major concern, coming out of the ranks of science, has been my own arrogance. How arrogant I was, to put down other people’s ideas that didn’t agree with my scientific view. When I went around the world and spent time with indigenous peoples and tribes, I realized that my arrogance just didn’t fit in. Like the man in the story by H. G. Wells, I thought that in the country of the scientifically blind, the one-eyed man would be king. In fact, I was the one who was blind. I was intellectually incapacitated. As long as I held on to my scientific view, I couldn’t see. I thought I saw everything; I didn’t see anything. So I had to give up much of what I previously held as real, in order to see what these people saw. And when I was finally able to attain this new vision, it totally changed my view of science. And I began seeing science as a tool–not the be-all and end-all of the universe, but a tool to help us begin to dig deeper into the nature of what it means to be a human being. I don’t think we’ve arrived at that point yet. I don’t think we’re quite awake yet. I think we’re all still asleep–dreaming, hoping, wishing–mechanically relying on our intellect to lead us out of the morass in which we constantly find ourselves. When we can use our heart and our spirit as well as our brain, that’s when science will begin to adapt to a new world order.

As a recovering rationalist and reductive materialist myself, I have little to add except “Amen!”

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: Can Science Seek the Soul?
Illustration(s): Warren Brown, Dean Radin, John Searle, Charles Tart, Fred Alan Wolf, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Source: http://www.closertotruth.com/topics/mindbrain/113/113transcript.html
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Strange Physics of the Mind? (精神地奇妙物理現象?)

Strange Physics of the Mind? (精神地奇妙物理現象?)
[創意組織 ]
(2003/08/28)

Strange Physics of the Mind?

WHY are some physicists suddenly so interested in the human mind? Is mind as real as matter? A few have even begun wondering whether mind may be the “real reality” and matter a deceptive illusion. What is it about mental activities that causes such smart people to offer such wild speculations? Part of the reason is the weird implications of two fundamental theories that have changed forever our sense of reality: quantum mechanics, which injects uncertainty into the subatomic scale, and relativity, which unifies space and time on the large-scale structure of the universe. But can theories of physics explain mechanisms of the mind? Can the behavior of atoms determine the behavior of people? Can the structure of the universe describe how we think, feel, and know? We assembled an impressive group of physics-friendly guests to guide us through some remarkable territory.

PARTICIPANTS

Dr. Gregory Benford is a professor of physics at the University of California at Irvine where he specializes in plasma and astrophysics. Greg is also a well-known writer of science fiction, in which he has used quantum mechanics to create a whole new universe.

Dr. David Chalmers is a professor of philosophy and co-director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. Dave believes that the mind cannot be explained by brain alone.

Dr. John Searle is a leading philosopher of mind at the University of California, Berkeley. John asserts that the mind comes only from processes in the brain and there is no special need to invoke quantum physics.

Dr. James Trefil is a professor of physics at George Mason University and a prolific science writer. Jim claims not to be bothered by the “quantum weirdness” of the subatomic world.

Dr. Fred Alan Wolf is a theoretical physicist and author of books on the relationship between quantum physics and consciousness. Fred says some extraordinary things about reality.

ROBERT: Fred, your books, such as Taking the Quantum Leap and Parallel Universes, have all discussed how quantum mechanics might radically reform our understanding of reality. Do you really believe that mind is more fundamental than matter, or are you just having fun with us?

FRED: Maybe a little bit of both. I’m interested in being a kind of gadfly to stir up materialists–those people who believe that only the physical is real–so that they begin to rethink this fundamental problem once again. But I do believe that mind plays a far more important role in the way the universe is constructed than has previously been thought in any mechanical model.

ROBERT: Jim, as a physicist, you’ve written many broad-based books on science, among them Science Matters: Achieving Scientific Literacy. Do you think that what Fred [Wolf] says is literate?

JIM: It’s very articulate, of course; Fred is a very articulate guy. Many physicists get uncomfortable, though, when people take physical theories like quantum mechanics and then draw conclusions from them that aren’t supported by the theory itself. And most physicists would say that the idea of observers affecting the universe and other such ideas having this wide a context aren’t really supported by our views of quantum mechanics.

ROBERT: Greg, you’re a practicing physicist and a science fiction writer, whose recent novel, Cosm, describes the accidental creation of another universe, where time is speeded up. How seriously should we take your fiction as a description of reality?

GREG: I would hope you’d take it somewhat seriously, because one writes novels in order to make points. But I always try–and I think every scientist always tries–to convey the attitude that science has toward what constitutes proof. We should be sensitive to the style with which we offer our conclusions, because there’s a culture of science–

ROBERT: That process of building on past knowledge, rigorously assessing data, logically analyzing hypotheses, requiring repeatability and independent replication–

GREG: Yes. There’s a culture of science and we should always keep it in mind.

ROBERT: John, as the renowned author of numerous books on the mind, such as your recent Mind, Language, and Society, are you pleased or dismayed to watch strange physics perhaps remystifying the mind?

JOHN: I don’t think anybody has succeeded in remystifying the mind. Physicists are as capable of talking nonsense as anyone else. And more nonsense today is talked about quantum mechanics than almost any other subject, except maybe computers. But I’m not dismayed, no.

ROBERT: Dave, reviewers of your book The Conscious Mind claim that you see consciousness almost everywhere you look in the universe. Do you take that as a criticism or compliment?

DAVE: I don’t know about panpsychism, but I think it’s good to open up the idea–at least, after a few drinks late at night. The serious point here is that we don’t understand the mind.

ROBERT: Panpsychism is the theory that consciousness or “psychic stuff” is to be found literally everywhere, including in the lowest forms of single-celled life and even in ordinary inanimate matter. Is this what you would advise us mortals to consider?

DAVE: I don’t know whether the mind is everywhere. But here are two problems to consider. Problem one: we don’t understand the mind; we don’t understand the mind’s place in physical reality. Problem two: we don’t understand the intrinsic nature of physical reality. So there can seem to be an attractive notion–some of the time–that we might try to solve these two problems at once. Maybe there’s mind right at the very basis of physical reality. I don’t know whether that’s the case.

ROBERT: Does this mean that you can envision mind as being more causative of physical reality than physical reality is causative of mind?

DAVE: Mind might well be more fundamental to the universe than is commonly believed. We already know from physics that the world is a weird place. We already know from philosophy that the mind is a weird place. Who knows about a world of mind?

ROBERT: Fred, you focus on dreams. Your book The Dreaming Universe takes a fresh look at envisioning reality. Though many people take dreams as an incidental part of life, not much related to anything, you imagine dreams to provide some rather original insights into the structure of reality. Tell us about your theory of dreams.

FRED: The basic idea is that in a dreaming brain there are superpositions–that is, overlapping aspects of our world picture coming together and forming new pictures or new visions. This reminds me of–or is a metaphor for–what happens in quantum physics when we look at overlapping possibilities forming new possibilities. Such superpositioning seems to be how the universe may be constructed, based on a quantum mechanics model. So it seems that dreaming could be a natural place to look at where the mind and quantum mechanics interact and affect the physical world–in terms of how we make pictures of that physical world. My model basically uses dreams as the prism to look at different kinds of pictures–what might be called archetypal pictures, which form at the deepest level of our subconsciousness, even before we become aware of them.

ROBERT: “Archetypal” meaning some fundamental, structural thought or image that pervades the mental activity of numerous people, perhaps all humanity; archetypes are usually subconscious and always transpersonal.

FRED: Yes, there are universal archetypes that seem to be present among the myths and images of virtually all peoples and cultures, according to certain models of psychology. Carl Jung is the main proponent of this point of view. These archetypes are formed in sleep, during deep sleep, during this form of sleep we call dreaming. And there seems to be clear indications that we dream in order to form structure of the world, to give form to our understanding of our surroundings. For example, it’s known that the fetus, from the time when the brain begins to develop in the womb, spends something like eighteen hours a day-dreaming. This is measured by the rapid eye movement that research has shown accompanies dreaming.

ROBERT: Jim, do you think that Fred is dreaming here?

JIM: I have problems with the metaphor. The theory of dreams is as it may be. We don’t know much about dreams or why they function–but the idea of two independent thing coming together to form a radically new third thing….Yes, [superposition] is part of quantum mechanics. It’s also part of waves in your bathtub, and no one says that the universe is a bathtub. This way of speculating bothers me, though I know Fred is very much aware of these distinctions. But when these ways of speculative thinking get propagated, I suddenly have students telling me that quantum mechanics means the world has to be a certain way. If this were ten years ago, they’d be saying that quantum mechanics proves that we shouldn’t live in a patriarchal society. I’ve heard the quantum mechanics/dreaming argument, among others, before. I agree with John [Searle] that you get a lot of nonsense being talked about quantum mechanics.

ROBERT: Does quantum mechanics generate consciousness? Can the way the world works at the subatomic level–uncertainty, superpositioning, duality, and the like–be directly causative of the way self-awareness works at the organism level, which to our knowledge is associated only with brains? This is the general view of, among others, Roger Penrose, the English mathematician and physicist, who speculates that quantum mechanical effects deep inside neurons (i.e., brain cells) might engender the kind of baffling first-person experience we call consciousness. But can what goes on in the microstructure of the universe be responsible for creating all the unique characteristics of human mental life?

FRED: There’s a new model of quantum physics indicating that there might be a way to generate self-reference from a quantum system. The system not only has to observe something outside of itself, it also has to observe itself observing outside of itself. And that forms a quantum state in what is called the parallel-worlds model, or the many-worlds hypothesis, of quantum physics. It’s a very interesting idea, because it allows one to feed back, in a linear way–which physicists never thought was possible [and most still don’t].

ROBERT: There are indeed mainstream theoretical physicists–if such an animal as a mainstream theoretical physicist exists anymore–who do contemplate parallel universes, but strictly in a physical sense. The consensus view is that even if parallel worlds do exist in some way, there would still be no congress possible between them.

JIM: Quantum mechanics is the science that deals with what goes on at the level of the atom and inside it. When you look at quantum mechanics, it is, as David [Chalmers] said, weird. I mean, it’s just weird.

ROBERT: Weirdness like observer-created reality, wave-particle duality [an electron or other “quantum” exhibiting the characteristics of both a wave and a particle], the uncertainty principle [the impossibility of determining the exact position and velocity of a particle simultaneously], time flowing backward as well as forward [at least as a theoretical construct], and other such counterintuitive notions.

JIM: Quantum mechanics doesn’t correspond with our intuition. But our intuition is based on the macro world in which we live. And the idea that when you descend to the world of the atom, that somehow it should be the same as the world we’re used to, is in itself weird. Why should the micro world work the same way as the macro world? They don’t have to work the same way, any more than when you go to another country the natives all have to speak English. So when we get inside the atom and find that it doesn’t behave as we might expect–and we can’t describe it in terms of colliding baseballs–that doesn’t mean that therefore we have to give up all our other ideas about the universe. The strangeness of the subatomic world just tells us that when we go to this other realm, the rules are different. If you want to play the quantum game, you have to play by the quantum rules.

DAVE: There are some particularly strange things about quantum mechanics. For example, quantum mechanics tells us that an electron can be in two places at once. Now, that’s not a problem; that’s just a little bit weird. But what happens when someone makes an observation? If an observer comes in, with a conscious mind, then that electron can only be in one place at one time. That’s the thing that’s hard to understand.

JIM: It’s the interaction with the–

DAVE: Put it this way: if people want to find a role for mind in physical reality, if they already have a bias to do so, quantum mechanics would be exactly the place to look.

JIM: Because it’s a place where our intuition breaks down.

FRED: Jim [Trefil] just made a very important point. “It’s the interaction,” he said. I totally disagree with that. It’s not the interaction that does it, because interactions fit within the framework of quantum mechanics, and they lead to more weirdness. In order to get from that pool of weirdness to a single actual observation, something has to change radically and suddenly. It’s not the interaction that does it. It’s the observation that does it. And [Werner] Heisenberg made that point a long time ago when he said that it’s the observation that creates the path of an arrow.

JIM: But what I’m saying is, the problems you run into are always from mixing metaphors–from imposing our classical [macroscopic] ideas on the atomic world, where they don’t belong. If you look at the atomic world, it’s an interactional place; that’s what it is.

ROBERT: John, are physicists trying to take over what traditionally has been philosophers’ sphere of influence?

JOHN: I don’t think this is a case of physicists trying to take over from philosophers. Neurobiology is a focal point, and although we know a great deal about how the brain works, we’re still at a stage where we welcome all speculations. But the idea that we’re going to find consciousness at the level of the wave function in quantum mechanics is, so far, without any experimental support whatever. There’s a real difficulty with this idea. As far as we know, consciousness exists only in human and animal brains. And they have a very specific kind of anatomy: they have neurons. The problem with quantum mechanics is that it’s everywhere, absolutely everywhere. So if you’re going to find consciousness in the collapse of the wave function, let’s say, or in superpositioning, then you’re going to have to conclude that the universe is in every place “conscious.”

ROBERT: The collapse of the wave function is how we get from the micro world of all this weirdness (i.e., quantum indeterminacy) to the macro world where everything is in its place. When we measure, or observe, something, we collapse its wave function.

FRED: There’s something very interesting here. The classical world is a clearly defined world, in which causality seems to be the rule. The quantum world is probabilistic in nature, and causality is not clear. The question is, “How do we get from the quantum to the classical?”. If you look at the parallel-worlds model that I mentioned earlier and discussed in The Dreaming Universe, you find that in many self-referencing systems, classical physics reappears. A system can have knowledge of simultaneous things that, according to the laws of quantum mechanics, it shouldn’t be able to know. It can know things in violation of the uncertainty principle, provided that it doesn’t put that information out into the outside world. I take that to be a metaphor for how we make up stories about ourselves. We can know things about ourselves that we can never know about somebody else. That’s trivial, but the things that we know are personal stories about how we got from A to B, whereas for somebody else the blanks have to be filled in.

ROBERT: Dave, you’ve postulated that information–I assume in some pure, idealistic form–may be the underlying essence of reality. Could you tell us about that?

DAVE: Let’s think about the way physics really works. Basically, physics tells us about relationships between things. For example, there are two different states that an electron might have, and it might have this or that effect on another particle. Physics doesn’t tell us what these electrons are in themselves; it tells us only about the relations between the differences here which make a difference elsewhere. Physics is silent about the intrinsic nature of reality. Basically, it tells us about bits. Zeros and ones, if you like–on or off, this state or that state. Whenever you have information, though, it deals with intrinsic nature–descriptions or categories. Is something red or is it blue, opaque or transparent, and so on. What we’re really looking for, down deep, is the intrinsic nature of physical reality. And I might speculate that the intrinsic nature of physical reality could have something to do with the intrinsic nature of mind.

ROBERT: Greg [Benford], when you sketched first thoughts about your book Cosm and made parallel universes its core concept, what was going on in your head? Was quantum mechanics involved in your mental creativity?

GREG: Gee, I hope not. It’s an interesting question, though: Where does creativity come from? I tend to believe that we are mostly builders of analogies. All the time, we ask ourselves, “Does this thing look like that thing–or does it look like that other thing?” If it looks more like that other thing, go there; follow it; build on it. Building analogies and following trails of thought are the most common form of creativity, and that’s what I did in this novel. I thought about the calculations that have arisen in the last ten years about being able to create a whole universe in a laboratory, and I wondered what might happen if this could actually be true. And then I wondered, What if someone were to do it by accident? The mechanism for universe creation has been shown to be a quantum mechanical event that began as a microscopic event in the real world.

ROBERT: In the real world?

GREG: Yes, in the real world. The creative leap was to suppose that a quantum mechanical event could appear in the real world on a large scale. This isn’t as farfetched as it may initially seem, since our current universe was once a quantum mechanical object. That was a long time ago, of course, and we weren’t there.

ROBERT: Fred was there.

GREG: Of course, Fred [Wolf] may have been there–he looks a lot like Jehovah. If our entire universe emerged out of a quantum mechanical event far smaller than an atomic particle, why couldn’t such a thing happen again? But this doesn’t mean that I want to imply that quantum mechanics is often operating on the macroscopic levels of our common, classical world. Look at it this way: Cosm is a novel that uses a colossal metaphor like the creation of the cosmos and then imagines all the dust that flies: what happens to society when it turns out that ordinary untenured faculty members can actually create universes.

ROBERT: Do they get tenure for that?

GREG: It looks like she’s going to get tenure; it’s amazing what you have to do to get tenure these days. But there’s a danger here in these quantum mechanical musings. Let’s put it another way: I had a lot of fun painting a French impressionist portrait of a cow–but don’t try to get milk out of it. Similarly, don’t try to squeeze everything out of quantum mechanics, because quantum mechanics doesn’t work well as a metaphor in the large-scale world. John [Searle] is always saying this, and I quite agree. And just in case you may not be following all that we’re saying here, don’t think that you alone don’t understand quantum mechanics, because we physicists don’t understand much of quantum mechanics either.

ROBERT: Let’s take a specific, strange aspect of quantum mechanics called nonlocality. What is nonlocality in quantum mechanics, and does it help explain some of the more mystical traditions of humanity? Fred, I’m wandering into your territory.

FRED: Nonlocality means that something that happens over here occurs because something happened over there, when there is seemingly no physical means by which the something-over-there could effect the something-over-here. So, how did the something-over-here become what it is when the something-over-there did what it did, since there’s no possible physical connection between the two? That’s what we call nonlocality.

ROBERT: It’s also called “spooky action at a distance.” It might have been called pseudoscience, because it would seem to be impossible, but in quantum mechanics we learn that what seems impossible may be quite ordinary.

FRED: Nonlocality is possible because the original objects–the one over here and the one over there–interacted before they separated, and they formed what is called a single state. And even though they are now separate, they still behave as a single state.

JIM: This phenomenon is called quantum entanglement. You start with two particles that are near each other and have some interaction, and when they separate they retain–if you like to think about it in this way–a “memory” of the original interaction. This is one of the more surprising predictions of quantum mechanics, and it was verified experimentally in the 1960s. It’s the only case I know of in science where you had a theory that everyone believed was true, made a prediction based on that theory, conducted the experiment, verified the prediction–and everybody was upset. Because what it confirmed was that you can never visualize what is going on in the quantum world. And we’re primates; we deal in visual systems. We all think of these elementary particles as baseballs flying about or billiard balls bumping into each other–I do, I don’t deny it. We think of things that way, and then we get into these paradoxes, and we find things that don’t make any sense, nonlocality being one good example. Actually, nonlocality, if you describe it correctly–and it’s a long argument, beyond our scope here–isn’t a paradox. It’s just impossible to visualize; it’s something that doesn’t fit the classical view.

ROBERT: Fred, help us with nonlocality. What’s an example that we can relate to?

FRED: Pretend you’re looking at a pair of dice, seemingly ordinary dice. But notice that you can’t see any spots on them. Yet if I pick up one of them–this act is called “observation”–it can suddenly change: look, now it has white spots on it! Well, that’s interesting. Observation is affecting the reality of the die. That’s the metaphor here. It gets even more interesting when I take two dice, let them interact, and then pull them apart. Now, when I observe the die over here, making its spots appear, then spots also appear on the second die, over there. And if I make an observation again and the one over here changes and has black spots on it, so does the second die, over there–now it, too, has black spots. In other words, my observation of one immediately affects the other.

ROBERT: A nice illustration of non-locality, but it hardly proves that reality is a dream. So what does this tell me about the nature of things?

FRED: Nonlocality tells you that there’s an order in the universe that may complement and supersede the simple mechanical order we’ve been conditioned to accept.

ROBERT: Can quantum mechanics be involved in any of the strange occurrences that some claim are supernatural? Consider synchronicity–coincidences; the seemingly nonrational association of events; the juxtaposition of events for no obvious physical reason–which was popularized by the mystical psychoanalyst Carl Jung. Recently, certain physicists and people involved in parapsychology have wondered whether quantum mechanics might be the underlying cause of these kinds of synchronicities….John [Searle], you’re laughing at me.

JOHN: We have two mysteries for one again. The problem is that these kinds of bizarre coincidences that you get in real life are distinctly odd statistically, whereas quantum mechanics is pervasive and distinctly predictable statistically. The kind of mystical phenomenon you’re talking about is, for example, a mother suddenly imagining her son in a car accident, and–my God!–she finds out an hour later that he was in fact in a car accident at that very time…so there must be some explanation. Now, here’s the explanation as to why these seemingly odd occurrences should be quite normal and expected. Given that all of us have billions of conscious states in the course of our lives, it’s not at all surprising that you occasionally get these odd correlations. But the idea that these strange events are connected somehow with quantum mechanics is not correct. They aren’t remotely like quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics is absolutely a pervasive feature of the world at the most micro and fundamental level. So I don’t see the connection between quantum mechanics and these occurrences; I’ve never seen anybody make the connection work.

FRED: I think, to be fair to John, that one does have to stretch the implications of quantum mechanics to apply it here. I agree with you all on this. Quantum mechanics is not the end of the story here, but it’s important to wonder what quantum mechanics is telling us. Quantum mechanics is exhibiting some features that look a lot like synchronicity and other features that look a lot like nonlocality. Now go back to these experiences that human beings have, that seemed totally unexplainable before quantum mechanics. What I and others are saying is that maybe quantum mechanics has something to contribute. But maybe we need a new theory; maybe we need something bigger than just quantum mechanics. I think synchronicity is another ordering parameter of the universe.

ROBERT: What is your description of synchronicity?

FRED: Synchronicity is when two events take place, in which a clear meaning is associated with the juxtaposition, but it’s a coincidence that cannot be explained causally–that is, by one event’s effecting, or causing, the other. So synchronicity can be defined as a meaningful but noncausal relationship between two or more events.

JOHN: Do you assign this meaning after the events take place?

FRED: I presume you do.

JOHN: That’s very important to me. Because how can you assign meaning to things or events if you don’t know that they’re going to occur. You have no way of predicting them. For example, there’s a famous tale about a woman who was discussing her creativity, and was having visions of a scarab or something like a gold bug, and suddenly a similarly colored beetle flew into the screen of a window where Carl Jung was working with a patient. This is what he would call a synchronicity. When I hear psychologists tell stories, they’re always filled with remarkable synchronicities.

ROBERT: I agree. The balancing question is how many of the innumerable synchronicity-type events that could have conceivably occurred did not occur? And when the ultra-rare synchronous-type events do occur, are their appearances really anything more than random coincidences amidst the overwhelming number of similar events that did not occur?

JIM: Isn’t this what my old statistics instructor used to call the “golf ball on the fairway” fallacy? You hit a golf ball onto the fairway, and ask, “What’s the chance that my golf ball will hit any particular blade of grass?” That chance is basically zero. But the ball must land on some blade of grass, of course. So you go over to the ball afterward and say, “Look at this! The odds that my ball would land on this specific blade of grass are astronomical!” But in fact the ball has to land somewhere.

ROBERT: Another problem is the “expectation bias”: Do synchronize-type events occur more to those people who believe in them? If so, we should be suspicious, though I suppose that one could always argue that “believers” can generate or attract more synchronous-type events than can “non believers.”

FRED: The universe is an interesting place; and so is the mind.

ROBERT: Jim, what evidence could convince you that Fred’s worldview has legitimacy?

JIM: Let’s talk some more about synchronicity. A good-sized sample of people would have to faithfully write down all the visions they have, and then independent analysts would assess how many of them were clearly and meaningfully coincident. But you have to define in advance what “clearly and meaningfully coincident” means–this is what John [Searle] was saying. Assigning meaning in advance is a very important part of this test. Only then can you determine whether the result is greater than chance. If you have a million visions and only one of them is clearly meaningful, that hardly seems more than coin-flipping chance.

ROBERT: But what if the results of your experiment, designed in your way and assuming sufficient trials and repetition, demonstrated statistically significant, nonrandom occurrences of synchronicity?

JIM: I would accept that there was something going on that had to be explained, something beyond mere chance. And then I would start looking for explanations.

ROBERT: Let’s reverse the results. Would a negative outcome of your experiment constitute a logical proof that there was no strange, synchronous connection to the one “clearly meaningful, non-causal event” even though it was statistically a random occurrence.

JIM: No.

ROBERT: The principles of logic and statistics can make causal connections unlikely but not impossible.

FRED: But the question is, “What does it mean to ‘explain’ something like synchronicity?”. The problem today, in our scientific way of thinking, is that “explanation” means a cause-and-effect relationship. If we can’t fit something into a cause-and-effect relationship, we surmise that we haven’t explained it. This is the notion I’m challenging. Synchronicities, I’m saying, are another form of order, which is noncausal or acausal. Synchronicities don’t fit the causal model, so we’re unable to explain them in the same way we’re accustomed to explaining normal things.

JIM: What I’m saying is that we haven’t yet established that there’s something to be explained.

ROBERT: Let’s change direction. In the development of consciousness as a field of scientific study, how important is quantum mechanics?

DAVE: At this moment in our investigations of consciousness, we’re concentrating on neuroscience. These are the early days, when we’re linking the chemical and electrical processes in the brain with the mental and psychological processes we know and love in our conscious experience. It’s like the early days of physics, when scientists were concentrating on processes at the macroscopic level. Similarly, once we come to understand these neuroprocesses in the brain [at the cellular and subcellular levels], then we can go farther and develop detailed speculations–maybe even explanations–for what underlies that level. Maybe fifty or a hundred years from now, there will be working theories describing how quantum mechanics or some other part of physics contributes to the fundamental theory of mind. For now, I think it’s a little early.

ROBERT: I’m always skeptical when I hear of some special new brain locus, or focal point, where mind is said to emerge from brain. We know that electrical impulses, which carry information flows in the brain, are generated at the synapses between the billions of neurons. Fred [Wolf] wonders about the role of glial cells, which are the much more numerous non-neurons in the brain, involved in supporting the biochemical environment. And others, like Roger Penrose, speak about the tiny microtubules inside neurons and speculate about how quantum effects might take place there. At our present level of understanding, I think it’s dangerous to assign the mind-brain interface, as it were, to any specific physical location.

JOHN: But it’s a good idea to start with what we know for a fact. We know for a fact that our brains are conscious brains. We know, as far as we know anything, that this table is not conscious. But there’s just as much quantum mechanics in this table as there is in our brains. So if you’re going to look for consciousness at the level of quantum mechanics, you’d better start talking about the special features of brain anatomy–because as far as we know, the brain is the only place where consciousness actually occurs in the real world. Tables are not conscious.

ROBERT: Fred, you’ve spent your entire career talking about the relationship between quantum mechanics and mind. Why should we care about such an abstract subject?

FRED: For a very good reason. Today we live in a culture that has a particular view of how things work. And unfortunately–or fortunately, depending on your bias–we have a highly mechanical orientation. People who are born in a certain way, or who live in certain circumstances, may think of themselves as handicapped or victimized for the rest of their lives because, mechanically, that’s the way they seem to be constructed. The quantum metaphor, the quantum story, changes all that. It says that observation affects, changes, alters reality. This means that by changing the way you observe things, you can possibly change yourself. So I think that everything can benefit from a quantum metaphor–ourselves, our families, our culture, our world, and possibly even our universe.

ROBERT: Can quantum mechanics affect free will?

GREG: I really don’t think so. It actually sounds more useful for a therapist than a physicist. Trying to explain free will by reference to quantum mechanics is much like playing tennis with the net down. It looks interesting at first, but after a while it loses its zip. I don’t think we make progress by compounding the levels of mystification. You have to get some kind of predictive value out of a scientific idea. This [speculation] just seems to be worsening the problem, not bettering it.

ROBERT: So you want to discard all the quantum mechanics discussions of the mind?

GREG: No, but you shouldn’t ask quantum mechanics to solve philosophical problems, which it cannot do. A philosopher can tell you why.

DAVE: The relationship between quantum mechanics and mind is an important issue for us, because it relates to what we are as human beings. We want to know what we are. Are we souls, which live forever, or get passed from body to body, or to other creatures, down the generations? Are we just bags of neurons that rot when we die? Or does it turn out that our consciousness is actually composed of fundamental physical entities? Or maybe we’re mental entities that were around at the time of the Big Bang. I think the answer would make a huge difference to our worldview. And if a quantum physics view of mind turns out to be right, that would force us to reconstruct the entire picture of ourselves. But just because a quantum mechanism would be extremely important for understanding mind, that doesn’t mean it’s right.

JOHN: We should care about these issues, because we want to know how the world works. And the most fundamental theory we have about how the world works is quantum mechanics. Now we’re tempted to think, Well, quantum theory is going to explain a whole lot of other things, like consciousness and free will. I’m very skeptical about such attempted explanations. I don’t think any of that is going to happen. But we would like to know how the world works, and we’d like to know how we work. If knowing how the world works at the most fundamental level will help us to explain how we work–great! If not, all the same, it’s something we should know about as well.

JIM: I agree that there’s a fundamental desire to know who we are. If the quantum mechanics metaphor helps people in their lives, as Fred was suggesting, then by all means use the metaphor–but don’t try to pretend that it has anything to do with the quantum mechanics that’s part of physics.

ROBERT: In advanced discussions of consciousness, some physicists are starting to talk about the nature of time as described by relativity theory. How do you see the relationship between time and consciousness?

DAVE: I don’t know. You might try to make some link. Relativity says that time can flow at different speeds. Consciousness, we all know, does flow at different speeds–in some states of consciousness time flows faster and in other states slower. Personally, though, I think that’s biologically explainable. I don’t see a relationship between that and the physics of relativity. Some say otherwise, and I wish them well.

ROBERT: Greg, how important is a sense of time in our sense of ourselves?

GREG: Time is adjustable, as evolution has engineered it. If you’re in the middle of an auto accident, time hasn’t changed, though your perceptions of time, during and after, will be different from normal experience. But the fundamental nature of time is something that physics has not truly figured out yet. It may not be comprehensible. It may be that time is one of the fundamentals of the universe, behind which there is no other actor.

ROBERT: But when time is ultimately understood, do you think it will have some close relationship to the nature of consciousness?

GREG: No.

FRED: I think it will. I think that our sense of self, even the nature of our soul, is that we are time-based creatures. Thought itself is time, and the relationship between thought and time is far more intimate than we can presently understand.

JOHN: But that’s true of anything in the universe. Everything has a temporal dimension to it. There’s nothing special about consciousness in terms of time. What’s special about consciousness is that sometimes psychological time doesn’t match real time. This is an interesting question, but seems more likely to be solved, as Dave [Chalmers] was suggesting, by understanding how psychology and the brain works.

ROBERT: So relativity has little impact on consciousness?

JOHN: I don’t think it has any special connection. Here’s our problem now: We don’t understand consciousness, so we’re thrashing around desperately, seeing whether we can lay our hands on something that will explain it. But I would go back to the brain. There we have a mechanism that we actually know something about, and we know that it’s where consciousness is taking place. And of course, like everything else, brains exist in time. So do feet exist in time, but thinking about “feet in time” doesn’t much help us to understand the nature of feet–or to understand consciousness.

DAVE: When it comes to the problem of time, maybe the key lies in the order of explanation. Time may be going the other way. Here’s a problem about time. Time seems to pass. Time seems to flow–“flows like a river,” people sometimes say. Physics can’t make sense of this concept: “time flows like a river.” So we’re going to have to understand how we sense time in our consciousness.

ROBERT: Is time a fundamental aspect of the universe independent of consciousness, or must time be understood through consciousness?

DAVE: Maybe it could turn out that the very sense of time flowing doesn’t correspond to something that’s independent of mind. Maybe that sense is just a construct in our mind.

JIM: When physicists talk about time, they don’t talk about what you’re talking about–the essence of time. They talk about measuring it–measuring periodic events. So we can measure intervals of time but never define time. Physicists don’t define space, either. We talk about how to measure distance, but we don’t say what space is.

ROBERT: But could time be, in essence, a construct of the human mind? Could space and time be dependent on consciousness?

JOHN: The way we conceptualize time may be derived from characteristics of our own consciousness, rather than our own consciousness being derived from the way we understand time.

FRED: But there’s something interesting going on in terms of how the brain operates in external, or physical, time. You can actually observe and map chemical and electrical events taking place in the cerebral cortex of the brain and compare these physiological markings with events that people say are happening to them at the same moment. And what we find is that “brain time” does not correspond precisely to “external time.” In fact, time reversals can occur.

JIM: That’s right.

FRED: This would indicate that we don’t clearly understand time and consciousness as a one-to-one mapping of one onto the other. It may be that we need two physical events in order to have a single consciousness experience.

ROBERT: Are you hinting that there may be a more fundamental relationship in the universe combining consciousness and time?

FRED: Yes, but not according to the popular view–defining the sense of time as physical events happening one after another. It may be that several events are required to cause a consciousness experience, and that this consciousness occurs somewhere in between them.

JIM: I agree that the brain is not a very good clock.

JOHN: You need to make a distinction between the perception of time and the time of the perception. And what we’ve found, with all kinds of interesting experiments, is that you don’t get an exact match. The runner thinks he began to run when he heard the starter’s gun, but we have good evidence showing that he in fact started before he could have heard the sound, before the conscious mind could have registered the sound of the gun. This is a fascinating piece of experimental data. I don’t know if it’s right, but it’s good stuff for philosophers, psychologists, and neurobiologists to work on. But I don’t see problems of time and consciousness as suitable for relativity theory.

FRED: No, not relativity theory, but perhaps a quantum model might explain it.

ROBERT: I want a prediction. One hundred years from now, what will be the accepted relationship between modern physics and the human mind?

FRED: Physics and mind will both be seen as approximations of a deeper reality. The separation between mind and matter will be seen as an artifact that came about through an accident of history, and this will reflect a deeper unity.

GREG: A hundred years from now, I suspect we’ll say that although physics can explain the working of the brain, it still can’t make detailed predictions about what people are going to do. Probably never.

DAVE: It’s possible that in the next hundred years something really surprising will happen that will make us look at the whole mind-brain problem in a new way. More likely, we’ll have a bunch of detailed, speculative theories, more detailed than we have now, but still with no consensus.

JOHN: In a hundred years, we’ll have finally gotten over our traditional vocabulary that says there’s the mental and the physical and they’re in two different realms. This distinction is already obsolete, just as it’s obsolete to think that there’s a distinction between machines and other kinds of physical systems. My guess about the future is that we’ll come to accept quantum mechanics in the same way we now accept relativity theory. We’ll just grow out of our obsession that everything has to behave like middle-size physical objects–why should it? We now know from relativity that space and time are not the way we thought they were, so why should subatomic particles be the way we thought they were? Regarding our understanding of the mind, I think we’ll have a biological account of the brain and how it produces consciousness–and it will have about the same relation to quantum mechanics as does any other part of biology, such as disease or photosynthesis.

JIM: I think John’s right. We’ll understand the brain, in terms of neuroscience and in terms of complexity theory. And quantum mechanics will be what it is today; it’s not going to change very much, and we’re still not going to like it.

ROBERT: CONCLUDING COMMENT

SO modern physics has persuaded a few scientists that quantum mechanics engenders mind, a few others that physical systems can never fully explain mental states so that mind cannot be built by matter alone, and still others that a spirit or a soul or even a dream is needed to explain consciousness. The theories are fascinating, even if not convincing. Is consciousness a fundamental essence of the universe, the real stuff of reality? The easy answer is: Nice, but no. But could matter and mind both be derived from the same fundamental stuff, whatever that may be? I think we’ll be astonished by whatever sits as the ultimate building block of reality. We should be more astonished that human beings can even conceive of it. It’s dreaming like this that transports us closer to truth.

Editor’s Comments:

Whether quantum physics as such ever explains mind is not the issue. Orthodox champions of modern science must wake up to the fact that mind cannot be reduced to matter, specifically brain matter. Mind is not “merely the activity of the brain.” What relationship mind ultimately has to matter, we have yet to fully fathom. We may discover one day that mind and matter, like energy and matter in Einstein’s famous equation, are two sides of the same coin.

The key point is that energy is real. Energy exists in its own right. Energy cannot be dismissed as merely a “side effect of matter.” Similarly, mind is real. Mind exists in its own right. Mind cannot be dismissed as merely an “epiphenomenon,” i.e., “side effect” of matter.

Despite ritual lip service to “open-mindedness” don’t expect many reductive materialists to change their minds. Despite protestations to the contrary, reductive materialists have formed a highly emotional, quasi-religious attachment to the reductive materialist Conventional Wisdom. Thomas Kuhn’s landmark book, “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” performed a valuable service. It disabused the general public of the comforting notion that modern scientists were ruthlessly objective about their own belief systems. It exposed modern scientists as every bit as partisan and irrational as the Catholic Church when confronted by Galileo’s heresies.

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: Strange Physics of the Mind?
Illustration(s): Barry Beyerstein, David Chalmers, John Searle, Marilyn Schlitz, Fred Alan Wolf, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Source: http://www.closertotruth.com/topics/mindbrain/112/112transcript.html
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Do Brains Make Minds? (腦髓等於精神嗎?)

Do Brains Make Minds? (腦髓等於精神嗎?)
[創意組織 ]
(2003/08/25)

Do Brains Make Minds?

WHAT are you thinking about right now? Perhaps you’re deciding whether to continue reading this book or to pay a bunch of bills gathering on your desk. Where are you thinking that thought? In your brain? In your mind? This is the crux of the mind-body problem: What is the relationship between the thoughts in our minds and the brains in our heads? This is one of the fundamental issues in philosophy and it has enticed philosophers for centuries. Is gray matter all that matters, or is “mind stuff” different in kind from “brain stuff”? Is there something unique and nonmaterial about the human mind, something not crammed into our craniums? Today, the relationship between brain and mind is the subject of intense scientific debate. What is special about the human brain compared with, say, the brains of chimps or dolphins? Or compared with the artificial brains of computers? Modern brain research–that is, neuroscience–provides a deep understanding of our processes of cognitive thought, sensory perception, emotional feelings, and behavioral actions. But can neuroscience explain love and hate, ambition and altruism, music and art? Can neuroscience solve the mind-body problem? We have five expert views.

PARTICIPANTS

Dr. Barry Beyerstein, a brain scientist, is a professor of neuropsychology at Simon Fraser University in Canada. Barry is a skeptic who does not believe in anything nonphysical.

Dr. David Chalmers is co-director of the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona. Dave believes that correlations between brain states and mental events do not prove that brain causes mind.

Dr. Marilyn Schlitz is an anthropologist and parapsychologist at the Institute of Noetic Sciences. Marilyn asserts that we can have experiences outside the brain.

Dr. John Searle, the author of many books about the mind such as Minds, Brains and Science, is the Mills Professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley. John focuses on the problem of how the brain causes experiences.

Dr. Fred Alan Wolf, a theoretical physicist, is the author of The Dreaming Universe: A Mind-Expanding Journey into the Realm Where Psyche and Physics Meet. Fred speculates that reality is more spiritual dream than physical manifestation.

ROBERT: Barry, you’re a materialist who believes that only the physical is real. Does that mean you believe that the mind is the output of the brain, just as urine is the output of the kidneys?

BARRY: The brain and the kidneys are both physical organs. Both have anatomical structures and physiological processes that generate particular things. And, yes, the output of one is urine and the output of the other is thought.

ROBERT: John, you’re one of the leading philosophers of mind. Your book The Rediscovery of the Mind helped to return the mind to the front burner of intellectual inquiry. How do you assess the increasing confidence–some might call it arrogance–of neuroscientists like Barry, who are virtually asserting that they have solved the mind-body problem?

JOHN: Well, I don’t detect any arrogance–though I’m sorry that Barry’s so down on kidneys. But I do think he would agree that we have a long way to go in understanding how the brain works. Most of the neuroscientists I know are very cautious about the progress we’ve made in understanding the brain, and in fact progress has been very slow. It’s laborious to try to understand how the brain does anything. It may even be a little overoptimistic to state that we now can explain sensory perception, much less emotions. We don’t really understand how perception works. We can more or less track the visual system from the back of the eye through the midbrain to the cerebral cortex at the rear surface of the brain. Maybe we can figure out what’s going on in the midbrain, but when we get to the visual areas of the cerebral cortex, though we can relate certain simple perceptions to neuron function, unifying these perceptions into visual awareness gets to be mysterious.

ROBERT: Any solutions here to the mind-body problem?

JOHN: There are really two mind-body problems. One is the overall philosophical question–What are the general relationships between the mind and the brain?–and I think we can now say what those are: brain processes cause mental states and mental states are realized in the brain. But the second mind-body problem is what Dave [Chalmers] calls the hard problem–How exactly does it work? How do brain processes cause mental states?–and we don’t know the answer to that.

ROBERT: Marilyn, you’re director of research at the Institute of Noetic Sciences and have conducted some of the leading experiments in parapsychology. And you’ve produced strong, if controversial, evidence for rather startling abilities of the human mind to apprehend images in ways not explainable by neuroscience. How do you assess the claims being made by many scientists that the mind is strictly the physical output of the brain and nothing more?

MARILYN: I would take the position of a radical empiricist, in that I am driven by data not theory. And the data I see tells me that there are ways in which people’s experience refutes the physicalist position that the mind is the brain and nothing more. There are solid, concrete data that suggest that our consciousness, our mind, may surpass the boundaries of the brain. So I think it’s important that we keep a balanced perspective.

ROBERT: Dave, your book The Conscious Mind makes the controversial case for “mind” and “consciousness” being a primary element of reality, like mass and energy, and not an epiphenomenon, or secondary phenomenon arising meaninglessly from the brain. What would it take for you to reverse your position–change your mind, as it were–and discard the mind as a primary element of reality and realize that you should have been a good old materialist all along, like Barry [Beyerstein], believing that mind is just the output of the brain as urine is just the output of the kidneys? What kind of data would you have to see?

DAVE: Well, I started out life as a materialist, because materialism is a very attractive scientific and philosophical doctrine.

ROBERT: Materialism is the philosophical position that only the physical is real, and anything else, like mind or consciousness, are just artifacts or illusions. What you can’t know through the normal senses cannot exist.

DAVE: Brain research is going to give us better and better correlations between states of the brain and events in the mind. That’s what we’re seeing now; it’s beginning to happen. We find these kinds of strong correlations in many areas. Take the visual cortex, which is associated with certain kinds of visual experiences. Areas of brain function and different states of consciousness are indeed coming together. But finding correlation is not the same as finding an explanation, a reduction of mind to brain.

ROBERT: I take it you mean that correlation is not cause. Correlations of brain states with mental events can’t reduce the mental to the physical. To claim that there is nothing in the mind not generated by something in the brain would be a philosophical leap too far.

DAVE: To truly bridge the gap between the physical nature of brain physiology and the mental essence of consciousness, we have to satisfy two different conceptual demands. It’s not yet looking very likely that we’re going to reduce the mind to the brain. In fact, there may be systematic reasons to think there will always be a gulf between the physical and the mental.

ROBERT: Are you saying that neuroscientists will never be able to bridge the gap between mind and brain? Is there no evidence that can be discovered or produced that would convince you that mind and consciousness are just the output of brains and brain cells? Are you saying that such proof is impossible?

DAVE: Well, I think all the evidence is going to be about correlation, not about cause. So we’re going to have input/output, if you like–input to the brain, output to the mind. But the really interesting question is, “How do you get from input to output?”.

ROBERT: I want to push you; this is fundamental. Are you saying that it’s logically impossible for any data in brain research to make you change your mind and accept materialism?

DAVE: All the data are about correlation. The question of whether correlation, however strong, is in itself an explanation or reduction isn’t a scientific question; it isn’t an empirical question. It’s strictly a philosophical question.

ROBERT: So, again, you’re determining that it’s philosophically impossible for brain to explain mind, for mind to be reduced to brain? Brain research can never make you a materialist?

DAVE: Brain research is providing more and more data about the correlations. But how you interpret the data will always be a philosophical question.

ROBERT: Barry, are you more open-minded than Dave? Could you envision any data that could make you reject materialism, the belief that only the physical is real? Could any imaginable evidence convince you that radical physicalism is not the right description of the world, but that there is something more to the human mind than what resides in the human brain?

BARRY: Actually, I agree with Dave [Chalmers]. At its heart, the mind-body problem is a philosophical question. Yet I go back to what Gertrude Stein said: “Difference isn’t a difference unless it makes a difference.” I can’t see anything that we need to bring in from the outside to explain anything in neuroscience. I’m going to push the materialist position as far as it will go. It’s conceivable that someday I could come up against something that doesn’t fit the neuroscience model of mind, and if that happens then I’ll have to change my mind.

ROBERT: Fred, as a physicist, you’ve written books on what you call “the spiritual universe” and “the dreaming universe.” What convictions do you have that don’t fit Barry’s worldview of the strictly neuroscience model of mind?

FRED: Almost nothing fits. In many ways, I agree with Dave [Chalmers] that there’s really no way that materialism is going to explain consciousness. Sure, they’re correlated–it’s a necessary correlation, just like an automobile can go from one place to another because there’s a driver inside. But I see reality differently. Reality to me is more like a dream–I see a dreaming reality. I envision a dreamer, or a great spirit, of which we’re all a part. Reality as a dreamer dreaming a dream. And I think that using this model we can achieve some real scientific breakthroughs, rather than attempting to reduce everything down to the simplest level.

ROBERT: John, does this sound like a ghost in the machine to you?

JOHN: I think this whole debate so far is totally misconceived, and I can’t resist saying a little bit why. Of course we’re going to find correlations, just as we did with the germ theory of disease. But then the next step–again, just as with the germ theory of disease–is reduction, to find out cause. [Ignaz] Semmelweis in Vienna, with his obstetrics patients, first found a correlation; then he found causation. First you find a correlation, then you find a causal relation and a causal mechanism. Now, this is precisely how we’re going to do it in brain research. Once we move from correlation to cause in neuroscience, then all these old-fashioned categories, like materialism [only the physical is real] and dualism [some nonphysical entity is needed to explain mind], will fall by the wayside.

ROBERT: Will states of the mind ultimately be reducible to states of the brain?

JOHN: No, but for a kind of trivial reason. Consciousness is not going to be reducible to brain states because it has a first-person ontology, by which I mean that consciousness exists only from the point of view of some agent or organism that experiences it. In this sense, states of the mind are subjective, while states of the brain are objective. So we can’t get a reduction of mind to brain in the classical philosophical sense, but we can still get a solid, satisfying scientific explanation. That’s all I think any of you guys really want.

ROBERT: Marilyn, do you agree with me that John is a closet materialist?

MARILYN: I’m not sure he’s in the closet at all; I think he’s out in the open. For me, there’s a compelling body of data [from parapsychology and extrasensory perception research] suggesting that we can supersede our brain–that we can move our awareness, our sense of self, out into the world beyond our bodies, in ways that are not reducible to states of the brain. If we’re ever going to have a complete science of the mind and brain, this extraordinary data will have to be accommodated by the neuroscience perspective. I don’t know what we’ll end up with.

ROBERT: I hear Marilyn saying something remarkably strong. If neuroscience ever hopes to form a true picture of reality, of how mind and brain constitute consciousness, it has to include data from parapsychology and allied fields. Science as it is currently constituted will never get there.

MARILYN: A complete science has to speak to all the data, including the internal sense of everyday experience, rather than assuming that we can fit everything into a purely physical scheme that simply reduces mind to brain. A reductionist model just doesn’t include all the data.

JOHN: Well, I hear Marilyn saying something even stronger than that–namely, that you can have experiences outside the brain.

MARILYN: Yes.

JOHN: I don’t see any evidence of that. We have our hands full trying to figure out what goes on in the brain. If I had a theory of how the brain causes experience, I would feel that that was a pretty good day’s work. Then, if somebody wants to go and figure out how there can be experiences outside the brain, OK, but that’s for tomorrow.

ROBERT: Why should we wait? If you feel there’s even a remote possibility that we can have experiences outside the brain, and perhaps collect quantifiable, scientifically determined evidence to verify this claim, then your whole approach to the mind-body problem must suddenly shift. You have a radically new subject. Aren’t you postponing what could be revolutionary?

JOHN: If you had some really conclusive data, sure. But there’s nothing in the neuroscience literature offering conclusive data for out-of-body conscious experiences. You don’t want to exclude the possibility a priori, but if I’m a neuroscientist with a job to do, I’m going to spend my time figuring out how the brain does it. And if somebody can then give me solid data demonstrating that there’s stuff going on outside the brain, that’s terrific. That would mean there are diseases that aren’t caused by the germ theory.

ROBERT: I agree that scientists are more likely to do good science by remaining in their own disciplines. If you’re a pathologist, you’re best off staying within pathology. Neuroscientists are no different. But science sometimes requires a few fearless souls–no metaphysics intended–to step outside the common order and risk failure, even ridicule. What Marilyn is saying, and Fred as well, is that there’s a whole world of consciousness outside neuroscience, and that unless you consider this data, you’re not going to truly understand the nature of the mind or the construction of reality.

JOHN: Let the people who are absolutely convinced that they have solid data for out-of-body conscious experiences do the research on what they think are worldview-changing occurrences. But those of us who have a well-defined research project–namely, how the hell does the brain do it?–should concentrate on this vital, scientifically clear work. We know that the brain does it; let’s figure out how. After that, if you believe that you can corroborate mental stuff going on outside the brain, then fine. As for me, I’m very skeptical about it. I’ve never seen anything that’s even remotely supportive–but let’s keep an open mind about it.

ROBERT: Do I sense a slight pejorative tinge in your phrase “out of body?”

JOHN: That’s what Marilyn is talking about, right?

MARILYN: If we want to accommodate the full nature of human experience, and to fully understand who we are as unique human beings, then we have to move out of this box that limits our inquiries–we have to move beyond the easy questions. We have to expand our search to include the personal, introspective observations that people make in every culture, every day of their lives.

FRED: I just want to say that there’s an assumption here that John is making–and all of us are, to some extent–that the subjective “I” is within the body. This is not a clear evidential statement. It seems obvious, but it’s absolutely not provable. You cannot scientifically prove that your “I” is in your body. There’s no scientific evidence for that.

BARRY: Look, if I manipulate your brain [give you coffee, alcohol, drugs], your consciousness is going to change.

FRED: That may be, but you don’t know that.

JOHN: The point I’m making is that the “I” that I live with is in my body.

FRED: You don’t know that.

JOHN: Well, “I” see.

FRED: You believe that’s true.

JOHN: I wake up in the morning and there isn’t any question whose body this “I” is in. If I can figure out how that mechanism works, that would be terrific. Whoever can explain that [how one’s mental sense of self is formed from the billions of neurons in one’s head] should get the Nobel Prize.

FRED: What if you were to wake up in another reality? What if you suddenly realized that your “I” was in an alternate reality.

JOHN: Terrific! Have you ever had that experience?

ROBERT: Even if Fred’s “I” has had such alternative-reality wakings and realizations, the easiest explanation is that Fred was just dreaming. (Fred likes to dream.) That’s what dreams are–sensations of alternate realities which are artifacts constructed by states of the brain, usually while you’re asleep.

FRED: That’s not the point. As long as you have a paradigm you’re always going to try to define things within that paradigm. What I’m saying is, your paradigm ain’t big enough. We need to go beyond the egocentric, “I”-centered worldview that a subject exists only in a body.

ROBERT: Let’s come back down to bodies on earth. Let’s talk about comparative anatomy–specifically, how the human brain compares with the brains of various animals. If brain is the sole cause of mind, we should be able to plot some additional data points by investigating the correlations between mind and brain in other species. Barry [Beyerstein], describe briefly the relationship between the human brain and the brains of chimps or dolphins.

BARRY: The basic floor plan of the mammalian brain is remarkably similar, from the human brain down through the rest of the mammalian chain. But what differentiates human brains from the brains of other animals is probably the most interesting part–and, I think, one of the most profound pieces of evidence in favor of the idea that the brain is the organ of consciousness. If you compare brains, as comparative neuranatomists and evolutionary biologists do, what you find is that as the brain develops–gets larger, more complicated, and more interconnected–new mental processes emerge that didn’t exist prior to that. Take the dolphin brain and the human brain, for instance. Huge parts of our brains–that is, the higher sections of the cerebral cortex–are devoted to vision, which is to be expected, since vision is our primary sense. In dolphins, brain areas devoted to vision are relatively smaller–which is again to be expected, since vision is not the primary sense of dolphins, whose environment is the ocean. Dolphin brains have a larger area devoted to hearing, since dolphins live in a world requiring a three-dimensional auditory sense, which they use for active echolocation; and their brains are structured accordingly, with huge areas devoted to that.

ROBERT: How about the relative size of the dolphin brain compared with the human brain?

BARRY: The dolphin brain is a little larger. So size isn’t everything.

ROBERT: Would you say a dolphin is conscious?

BARRY: Yes, I think so. There’s much good research on higher mental processes in dolphins, such as problem-solving.

ROBERT: Let’s review the facts. The dolphin brain is larger than the human brain, with more auditory than visual territory. In this context, what about the output of the dolphin brain versus the output of the human brain, say, in terms of social accomplishment or mental activity? Doesn’t there seem a mismatch here, a disconnect? Either dolphins are a whole lot smarter than we think or there may be something really interesting going on the human brain. Fred, what’s your feeling about this?

FRED: This is a very difficult question.

ROBERT: Should I ask you only easy ones?

FRED: We have thumbs, which allows us to manipulate the world better than dolphins can. And we have consciousness in our thumbs.

ROBERT: Now you sound like Dave [Chalmers]–seeing consciousness in lots of strange places.

FRED: I don’t believe that consciousness is limited to the brain. I think there’s consciousness in the body. Whatever consciousness does, it’s adapted in the dolphin to form that kind of entity. It’s not that a dolphin has consciousness; it’s that consciousness has a dolphin. Consciousness also has a Fred Wolf, which appears momentarily and disappears–

ROBERT: Is there something special about Dolphins and Fred Wolf that spawns such attention from consciousness?

FRED: Consciousness also has a Robert Kuhn. It has a John Searle. Consciousness has it all. It seems to me that this model of reality, because it encompasses more, can help us explain something. We need to go back and look at the ways in which ancient peoples first began to think about consciousness.

ROBERT: Dave, we discussed this in a previous program, but it’s worth going into here: Do you see consciousness as different in humans and animals?

DAVE: I think humans and animals have a lot in common. They all perceive, learn, remember, act on the world, in broadly similar ways. I think they’re all conscious. What’s different in humans is that we have language.

ROBERT: And language engenders self-consciousness?

DAVE: Language gives us a set of concepts that come along with that. Take the word “I.” When we got the word “I”, we got self-consciousness and also the articulated set of concepts that goes with it.

ROBERT: If language in general and the concept of “I” in particular constitute a fundamental difference between human and animal cognition, how do you account for language in humans? Especially since the brains of humans and animals are so similar and the dolphin brain is even larger than human brain.

DAVE: I think the human brain is a lot more developed. It’s learned to make many fine-grained distinctions. Somewhere along the line, something happened in the evolution of our brains that gave us the ability to speak.

BARRY: The floor plan is similar; it’s the small differences that distinguish the human brain from the brains of other mammals.

ROBERT: There’s no mystery to language. Neuroscientists can locate where language is generated by the brain. Stroke victims can be lucid but totally unable to speak, if the traumatic insult was to one of these specific language areas.

JOHN: There isn’t any question about it. For most people, language is located on the left side of the brain. Humans have specialized language areas in the brain that don’t exist in other primate brains.

DAVE: Apes and parrots use language in very simple ways, and it’s interesting to see them doing that. A parrot can be trained to talk. Apes use signs, and they can communicate by pointing. But none of these rudimentary activities is like the human version of complex, articulated language.

ROBERT: Marilyn, do you see qualitative differences between humans and animals?

MARILYN: What intrigues me about your question is the notion of extended capacities. There are creatures, like bats and dolphins, who have the ability to echolocate, by means of resources we don’t use in our repertoire of capabilities. In a dog, the olfactory senses are highly developed. All of this leads me to wonder what capacities of the human brain are going untapped. What capabilities might allow us to actualize certain unrecognized aspects of our experience that go far beyond the constraints that the materialist box would impose on us?

ROBERT: Are you saying that the small anatomical difference between human and animal brains is precisely related to the sharp differences between human and animal mental activity?

MARILYN: I wouldn’t reduce it to that.

ROBERT: But that’s what everyone else seems to be saying.

MARILYN: I simply don’t know. Ultimately, at the end of the day, if it turns out that we can reduce it all to the brain, I would say, “Fine!” My point is that we really don’t have enough information about what the capacities of the brain are to understand how a purely physical model of reality would accommodate such a broad range of human experiences, including parapsychological phenomena such as out-of-the-body experiences. We don’t know the potential of what our experiences might become if we could really harness and utilize our brains.

ROBERT: But John, you’re saying that the fact that the human brain has a language area is the one key factor that differentiates human beings from animals?

JOHN: Well, there are other differences, but if you had to say in one sentence what the difference is between humans and animals, as far as consciousness and mental life is concerned, it’s language. Once you have language, you can get all kinds of experiences you can’t get otherwise. Animals can have pair-bonding, but they can’t, in our sense, fall in love. They can’t have a love affair, because for that you need a vocabulary. They can’t suffer the angst of postindustrial man under late capitalism. Now, I have that angst all the time, but I couldn’t have it without language.

MARILYN: You haven’t met my dog.

JOHN: The point is that the ability to structure experience linguistically gets you a kind of self-referential capacity. That is to say, you can have words that refer to the emotions of which that word is a component part. As a French philosopher said, “Very few people would ever fall in love if they had never read about it.” Nowadays, you need to see it on television or in the movies. In order to fall in love, you need a vocabulary–a whole scenario–that goes with it. And this is true, cross-culturally, of all human beings.

ROBERT: So you’re reducing the fundamental difference between humans and animals to language?

JOHN: It’s not “reducing.”

ROBERT: I’m trying to make you a reductionist.

JOHN: No, I’m not a reductionist. It’s an extension. What I’m saying is….I love Ludwig–that’s my dog. He’s wonderful and we communicate well. But when it comes to doing philosophy, poor thing, he can’t even keep up with me. To do philosophy, you have to be able to talk.

MARILYN: But we shouldn’t privilege one way of knowing over another. It’s obvious that there are things that are unique about human abilities as compared with those of dogs or birds or ants. But in the same way that our human differences make for a more interesting human soup, the multiple ways of knowing among species add to the repertoire of what makes life so interesting and rich. It’s really about the diversity of ways of knowing. And humans are not necessarily superior on this kind of social evolutionary ladder to dogs or any other creature.

JOHN: If Ludwig could talk, the first thing he’d say is, “How come you humans can’t smell at all?”

MARILYN: Exactly.

ROBERT: I think all of you are being too politically correct.

JOHN: I’m accused of that?

BARRY: Well, in terms of mental output, the difference between humans and animals far exceeds the small anatomical and physiological differences we see in their respective brains. And I think that’s not been explained.

JOHN: Human and animal differences are huge, but they’re made possible by those anatomical differences.

ROBERT: That’s a philosophical point of view, not an experimental one.

JOHN: We have people who’ve suffered damage to parts of their brains, and they go back to existences that are like Ludwig’s.

ROBERT: Yes, but humans who can’t see or hear are just as conscious, and can be just as literate, as anyone else.

DAVE: Here’s a better difference. Let’s see what humans can do without the aid of culture. A lot of what makes us as smart as we are is the cultural apparatus and substructure that we’ve built up in our society. Culture is largely made possible through language and through communication. With culture, we’re all smart. We can stand on the shoulders of our ancestors and we can see everything. Now suppose you bring me up in the wild, without culture, without much in the way of language, then you’ll see how smart I am intrinsically.

JOHN: Is this a personal confession?

DAVE: None of us would be anything much without culture.

JOHN: When we say “language,” we don’t just mean making noises through our mouths, but also things like money, property, marriage, government. The stock market. Interest rates. Congress. Elections.

ROBERT: You mean that all of these things that are culturally constituted or socially instituted can be traced back down to language?

JOHN: Absolutely. You can’t have any of them without language. The capacity for expressing yourself in spoken words and storing linguistic data in written words is a tremendous revolution. Given that, culture becomes possible.

ROBERT: In philosophical terms, then, language is necessary for the development of human thought and collective human culture–but is it sufficient?

JOHN: No, but we have constructed language in such a way that it’s sufficient for us. By itself, language is not sufficient. But as we have evolved thousands of years from the earliest forms of language, we have simultaneously evolved human civilization in all its color and variety. Language alone isn’t sufficient; you’ve got to have this development. It’s a kind of bootstrapping effect that we’ve used to build human culture–all done with our marginally better brains.

ROBERT: So we have animals and humans on the same general spectrum of consciousness. Now consider computers–massively parallel supercomputers and go out numerous generations. The big question of the moment is, Can computers become conscious?

JOHN: I’ve been in an argument with these people, and the short answer is no, because if you define a computer in the classic sense as a device that manipulates formal symbols–usually zeros and ones–then that by itself is not enough for consciousness and mental life, because such manipulations are a purely formal operation.

ROBERT: Why can’t formal operations, at some level of complexity, generate consciousness?

JOHN: It’s the difference between syntax as a bunch of symbols and semantics as meaning. There’s a one-sentence proof of this. It’s kind of a long sentence, but anyway….Imagine that you’re the computer, and imagine a task that you don’t know how to perform. I don’t know how to speak Chinese.

ROBERT: Go to your Chinese Room.

JOHN: I imagine myself locked in a room, and I have a rule book in the form of a computer program that enables me to answer questions put to me in Chinese. So the Chinese symbols come in, and I look up in the rule book what I’m supposed to do in response to each symbol, and the rule book gives me other Chinese symbols. I look at a symbol that comes in, and I look up what symbols I’m supposed to respond with, and I give back those Chinese symbols as answers. To people outside the room, it might appear as if I understood Chinese. But I don’t understand a word of Chinese, because all I have are the symbols–the syntax. Now–this is the point; it’s the end of the sentence–if I don’t understand Chinese, even though I’m implementing the program for understanding Chinese, then neither does any other digital computer on that basis, because that’s all any computer can do. The computer is a device for manipulating formal symbols.

ROBERT: Dave, what do you see when you look inside a computer? Do you see syntax but no semantics, symbols but no meaning?

DAVE: Look inside a brain; you see a bunch of neurons interacting. Do you see any semantics in that? Somehow, and we don’t know how, all those neurons interacting give rise to a conscious, meaningful mind. I don’t see a difference in principle between carbon-based neurons, which are wet, and silicon-based chips, which are dry.

JOHN: OK, I’ll tell you exactly the difference. The brain is a causal mechanism. “Computation” does not name a causal mechanism. It names a formal symbolic mechanism that can be implemented in a causal mechanism.

DAVE: A computer is a causal mechanism.

JOHN: You mentioned silicon. Computation has nothing to do with silicon. Computation is an abstract formal process that we, currently, in our backward technology, have found ways to implement in silicon. I have no objection to the idea that silicon might be conscious, but silicon has nothing to do with computation. Computation needs an abstract, formal symbolic process that we can implement in any medium whatever.
DAVE: I think the interesting thing about artificial intelligence is that what matters to the mind is not the meat [i.e., brain tissue and cells]. It’s not what the mind is composed of that’s meaningful, it’s the patterns, the infrastructure, which that meat constructs. Replace the meat in my brain, neuron by neuron, with silicon chips [assuming that each chip is functionally the same as the neuron it replaces]. What will happen? You’re still going to have a causal mechanism for mind, but it will be a different causal mechanism. Even though this neuron-by-neuron, chip-by-chip replacement has created a new silicon-based structure, [that structure] is going to be the same kind of structure and cause the same kind of results.

ROBERT: Might not this chip-for-neuron replacement transform a conscious being into your favorite zombie, who would appear to do everything that the formerly conscious being did–react, behave, and so on–but now without self-awareness?

DAVE: You mean, is my consciousness going to fade out along the way, winking out incredibly slowly as each neuron is replaced by each chip? Why should it?

JOHN: Let’s look closely at what you’re saying. If you had one causal mechanism, the brain, and you replaced it with another causal mechanism made of silicon, whether or not the silicon would be conscious is an empirical, factual question, not something we can settle a priori. I think that’s fine.
ROBERT: Please elaborate on what you think is fine.

JOHN: I think it’s fine to hypothesize that you can create consciousness in some medium other than meat.

ROBERT: To hypothesize is one thing. To be able to do it in the real world is something else. Do you think it would ever be possible to create consciousness in some medium other than brains?

JOHN: I don’t think so. I think it’s out of the question.

ROBERT: You don’t think you can?

JOHN: My statement is a factual thesis, not a philosophy proof. The philosophy proof goes as follows: just having the formal symbols, abstract zeros and ones, by itself, isn’t sufficient to guarantee the presence of consciousness.

DAVE: Any computer is more than zeros and ones. Any computer is not just symbols. It’s about voltages, and chips interacting with one another–

JOHN: Computation is not defined in terms of voltage.

DAVE: Computers are more than computation, more than zeros and ones.

ROBERT: But what is the brain doing that’s so fundamentally different? Maybe, in addition to electrical impulses zipping around, the brain also works by broad electrical field transmissions. Maybe it also works by bathing neurons in an information-influencing chemical soup. What is the essential difference between carbon-based brains and silicon-based computers that can cause the qualitatively enormous difference we’re calling consciousness?

JOHN: Let me give you an actual example. We don’t know much about the brain, but we do know a little bit about how certain drugs affect the brain. We know that if you put cocaine into your brain, it has a dramatic effect. It messes up the neurotransmitters [i.e., chemicals that transmit information between individual neurons].

FRED: This isn’t answering the question.

JOHN: I’m precisely answering the question. And the answer is this: cocaine affects certain neurotransmitters–

FRED: So what?

JOHN: Now, I can do a computer simulation of that with my own home computer.

FRED: So what?

JOHN: What I’m trying to tell you is that if I ingest cocaine, it actually causes a change in my conscious state, whereas–

FRED: You don’t know that. You take cocaine and you may change in a certain way. But there are people who take cocaine and don’t have any experience at all.

DAVE: Who’s to say that a cocaine-induced experience cannot be present in a computer?

JOHN: The point is that the formal simulation of the cocaine experience in a computer is not sufficient to give it a cocaine high.

ROBERT: Fred, you’re convinced that at some point in the future a computer can become conscious?

FRED: I think it will have to be a different kind of computer.

ROBERT: A quantum computer, massively parallel, orders of magnitude more powerful than anything imaginable today. You name the computer; I don’t care what kind of computer. Do you foresee a time when your computer will be a better friend than your current dog?

FRED: Not only do I see that, but I think I’ll become a better human being as a result of having a better friend.

ROBERT: So you’ll have a pet, a companion, which is a computer, and you’ll relate to it better than to your current dog?

FRED: Maybe better. But maybe in a more expanded sense.

ROBERT: Let’s ratchet up the argument. When pet computers become orders of magnitude more powerful still–say, a trillionfold–will they then become better companions than your wife? Maybe I should ask her that about you? Maybe it will take only a thousandfold improvement to replace you–just kidding.

FRED: Both my wife and I will be better companions to each other as a result of what’s coming.

ROBERT: John, how does your dog Ludwig compare to computers?

JOHN: We talk about computers a lot, Ludwig and I. I think that there’s no PC that’s ever going to replace Ludwig. The reason is very simple: I know that Ludwig is conscious and I know that a computer is not. And this conclusion has nothing to do with computing power. You can expand the power all you want, hooking up as many computers as you think you need, all in parallel, and they still won’t be conscious, because all they’ll ever do is shuffle symbols. Computers don’t have the causal powers of brains. So, no; no computer as currently defined is going to replace my dog, because computers aren’t conscious.

ROBERT: You’re looking in the brain for some causal mechanism not present in current computers. But Fred is saying there’ll be different kinds of computers.

JOHN: If we change the definition of a computer, then what are the computers? If “computer” means anything that can compute–add two plus two and get four–then you and I are computers. Because we can do that.

ROBERT: But artificial intelligence, defined broadly as non-brain intelligence, will never replace Ludwig?

JOHN: Well, if you build me an artificial dog that has the same kind of power to cause doggy consciousness, then you can have an appointment. I see no objections.

ROBERT: Then you have no problems in creating artificial consciousness?

JOHN: But computation, as it’s currently defined, is never going to do that. Now, Fred says, “Well, we can change the definition, get a different kind of computer.” Fine, but we already have a different kind of computer–you and me.

ROBERT: But now we’re talking about duplicating our brains in another physical form–in silicon, or gallium arsenide, or some new material.
JOHN: Or in whatever. Look, the brain is a machine. Whatever we know, we know that. And if by “machine” you mean a physical system capable of performing functions, then the brain is a machine. So we already have a conscious machine. You have one, I have one; it’s called a brain.

ROBERT: Dave [Chalmers], do you agree with that?

DAVE: I think that what matters to consciousness is the structure. So if you took my neurons and replaced them by silicon chips, you’re going to have a conscious machine. The PCs we have today aren’t even close.

ROBERT: Expand computer power as much as you like.

DAVE: The PC has potential. If you can get a computer to take on any structure you like, and if consciousness is generated by structure, then by definition that kind of structure is going to eventually give you consciousness.

ROBERT: So eventually computers can become better companions than people?

DAVE: I don’t know if we want our companions, or our pets, to be that smart.

MARILYN: We’ll never be able to equate human beings with computers. We’re not machines. I disagree profoundly with the notion that we’re just physical, mechanical objects. Humans are unpredictable. We’re capable of a vast repertoire of messy things called emotions. We have the potential for intense kinds of transcendent experiences that will never be within a computer’s repertoire. So we need not fear our position as human beings–and that’s not to say that someday computers won’t be wonderful companions. Dogs aren’t the same as humans, either. So down the road we may well have computers as pets.

ROBERT: I hear two radically different views flying around. The first, more popular among scientists, states that although no computer is like the brain today, if we are clever enough, and patient enough, after a certain period of time we can create John Searle’s consciousness in some non-brain physical material. But Marilyn is saying that no matter how clever we are, no matter how patient we are, it’s never going to happen; no manufactured physical matter is ever going to produce human-level consciousness.

MARILYN: There’s also a cosmological dimension that’s fundamental to this entire issue, and it relates to one’s personal belief system. If the assumption is that human beings are purely physical entities, produced on an assembly line, then maybe we could equate human beings and computers. But I think that the uniquenesses and individuality of our human personalities is what makes us really vital and interesting.

ROBERT: We’ll now take predictions. A hundred years from today, what is the new relationship between the mind and the brain?

BARRY: There won’t be a new relationship. We’ll surely know a great deal more about what goes on in the brain when any specific mental experience occurs. But a hundred years from now, there will still be groups like ourselves sitting around and fighting just as we have been fighting. And people will still hold to each of these same opposing opinions.

DAVE: We’ll have a really good set of correlations between processes in the brain and thoughts in the mind–which brain systems go with which mental process. We’ll have a set of abstract principles to explain the correlations. I also think that computers will have minds that aren’t wholly different in kind from ours.

FRED: As we begin to meld mechanical things, so-called hard silicon reality, with physiological things, so-called soft carbon reality, the distinction between a material device like a computer and a mental device like a human being will not be as demarcated as it is now. And we’ll have, I believe, clearly intelligent artificial devices.

MARILYN: As a culture, we’ll become so dissatisfied with this prevalent mechanistic metaphor that has deprived us of the poetry of being unique human beings that we’ll throw the whole materialistic philosophy into the trash bin. As for computers, they’ll take care of day-to-day matters, giving us plenty of time to excel in those things that make us uniquely human.

JOHN: In fifty years, we will know the neurological correlates of consciousness. In a hundred years, we’ll know which of those correlates are actually causal–we’ll know the causal mechanisms that produce consciousness.

ROBERT: CONCLUDING COMMENT

IT seems a paradox. The more some explain mental activity in the purely physical terms of neuroscience, the more others contend that mental activity cannot be reduced solely to electrical impulses and flowing chemicals, while still others wonder anew whether minds have existence outside the physical. Can neuroscience ultimately explain all mental activity, reducing mind to brain? Or is demoting the mind a vacant boast, philosophically naive and hopelessly deficient? Does the mind maintain an independent existence–beyond the brain and outside the physical–as a fundamental, irreducible element of reality? Perhaps the answer goes far beyond us. Perhaps we are forever limited, simply because we are forced to use the mind to explain the mind–this is our enduring paradox. It’s conflict like this that carries us closer to truth.

Editor’s Comments:

Reductive materialists believe they are being rigorously “scientific” when they insist that “consciousness is merely the name we give to brain activity.” They are gravely mistaken. The truth is just the opposite. The processes of the mind are not “reducible” to brain activity. Consciousness is fundamentally, qualitatively distinct from the mass of gray cells known as the human brain, as a result consciousness is not now and never will be “reducible” to mere brain activity.

Why is this so? For the answer we must turn to metaphysics. Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that contemplates the nature of the Universe at a level more conceptually fundamental than physics. Metaphysics tells us that the Universe is not a uniform “atomic soup.” Instead, the contents of the Universe are structured hierarchically. The Universe contains discrete levels, and displays discontinuities at each of these levels. Physics is the study of one level, the atomic level. Chemistry is the study of another level, the molecular level. Biology is the study of another level, the cellular level. Psychology is the study of another level altogether, the psychic level.

What reductive materialists fail to appreciate is that the Universe’s “higher” levels are not reducible to its “lower” levels. Chemistry is not reducible to physics. Biology is not reducible to chemistry. Psychology is not reducible to biology. Each level functions differently, according to its own rules, based on its hierachical level of order. What this means is that no matter how adept one becomes at physics, mere physics will never be able to explain chemical processes. No matter how adept one becomes at chemistry, mere chemistry will never be able to explain biological processes. No matter how adept one becomes at biology, mere biology will never be able to explain psychological processes. Neuroscience, so-called, will never be able to explain the human mind. Mind can only be understood at the level of mind, not at the level of biology, not at the level of chemistry, an certainly not at the level of physics. Mind can only be understood at the level of psychology.

The folly of reductive materialism is the predictable result of self-styled “rationists'” failure to grasp this underlying hierarchical characteristic of the Universe.

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: Do Brains Make Minds?
Illustration(s): Barry Beyerstein, David Chalmers, John Searle, Marilyn Schlitz, Fred Alan Wolf, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Source: http://www.closertotruth.com/topics/mindbrain/204/204transcript.html
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

What Is Consciousness? (什麼是知覺?)

What Is Consciousness? (什麼是知覺?)
[創意組織 ]
(2003/08/19)

What Is Consciousness?

ARE you conscious? How do you know? What is consciousness-our thoughts, feelings, hopes and dreams; the hidden voice of our private selves; our inner identity? What might consciousness consist of? All of us think we can understand consciousness, but none of us can explain it–therein lies its mystery. Think about yourself reading this chapter, and at the same time, observe yourself thinking. This is self-awareness, the interior mental experience we call consciousness. But why should you be self-aware at all? Is there something special about consciousness–something unique to humans beings, something not found in computers, something of the mind not in the brain? Many scientists, taking the so-called reductionist approach, believe that the inner voice we all experience is simply the illusion of selfhood, manufactured by our brain functions. These people subscribe to materialism, the philosophy that only the physical is real and that nothing nonphysical can exist. But there are a few scientists who wonder whether consciousness may be a fundamental part or property of existence, like matter, energy, space-time–and whether some obscure form of stuff may constitute our private selves. Then there are many people who believe in the existence of an independent, metaphysical spirit or soul, which is somehow an attribute of all human beings and in concert with the human brain forms the human mind. These people–traditional theologians are an example–espouse dualism, the philosophy that two radically different forms of stuff exists in the world: mind, the essence of which is thought; and matter, the essence of which is extension in space and time. Dualism traces its roots to the ancients but was famously expounded by the seventeenth-century mathematician and philosopher Rene Descartes, who also said, “I think, therefore I am,” thus asserting the primacy of consciousness. Materialism and dualism have been the two principal combatants in the philosophical tug of war commonly known as the mind-body problem. But there are related (and somewhat less respectable) belief systems–such as idealism, which asserts that mind is the reality and matter the illusion, and solipsism, which holds that the self is the one and only true reality. (Modern variances of materialism, such as Eliminative Reductionism and Functionalism, are discussed in the books of our guests.) Why is consciousness so fascinating? And why is it such a hot topic these days, with an academic journal devoted solely to consciousness studies, a proliferation of popular books on the subject, and a series of interdisciplinary conferences at the University of Arizona? To provide you with some insights, we enlisted the help of two philosophers, two physicists, and an anthropologist who is an expert on extrasensory perception. Remember, we give no assurances about truth–just a promise to get you closer.

PARTICIPANTS

David Chalmers, a philosopher at the University of Arizona, is the author of The Conscious Mind: In Search of a Fundamental Theory. Dave wonders whether consciousness may be just as fundamental as matter and energy.

Dr. Marilyn Schlitz is research director of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, a center devoted to an integrated understanding of consciousness. Marilyn believes that consciousness extends beyond the individual body and brain.

Dr. John Searle, a leading philosopher of mind at the University of California, Berkeley, is the author of many books, including The Mystery of Consciousness and The Rediscovery of the Mind. John believes that while consciousness is a real phenomenon, it arises solely from the brain.

Dr. James Trefil, a professor of physics at George Mason University, is the author of Are We Unique: A Scientist Explores the Unparalleled Intelligence of the Human Mind. Jim offers the mainstream scientific view that consciousness consists entirely of electrochemical activity within the brain.

Dr. Fred Alan Wolf, a non-mainstream theoretical physicist, is the author of The Spiritual Universe: One Physicist’s Vision of Spirit, Soul, Matter, and Self. Fred suspects that consciousness may be the “real reality” and matter a dreamlike illusion.

ROBERT: John, you’re one of the leading philosophers of mind. Why is consciousness such a mystery?

JOHN: We don’t know how to explain it. Compare consciousness to physics. We’re doing pretty well in physics, even though we have some puzzling areas, like quantum mechanics. But we don’t have an adequate theory of how the brain causes conscious states, and we don’t have an adequate theory of how consciousness fits into the universe.

ROBERT: Why is consciousness suddenly so hot?

JOHN: Well, in a way, the puzzling thing is why hasn’t consciousness always been hot? It’s the single most important fact about our existence, except for life itself. Consciousness is the most descriptive thing about human beings. So what happened to consciousness? There was a period of nearly a hundred years–most of the twentieth century–when the scientific consensus believed that there was no way to construct a scientific theory of consciousness. William James and many of the leading thinkers in the late nineteenth century assumed that there was just nothing useful one could say about it. So what has happened recently, I think, is not that we’ve suddenly discovered consciousness, but that we’ve rediscovered something we should have been studying all along. We have gone back to what is a normal preoccupation of curious, self-perceptive human beings: How does our own consciousness work? What makes consciousness hot now is that we’ve overcome the silliness of a certain era, when people thought you couldn’t really say anything about it.

ROBERT: We haven’t fully overcome prejudice against the subjective. Many scientists still feel that studying consciousness just spends our money and wastes our time.

JOHN: But they don’t dominate the scene the way they once did.

MARILYN: Certainly consciousness has been hot, and within our own culture we’re just beginning to wake up to this idea. What is unique about this moment in human history is that, for the first time, we have a convergence of worldviews. We have available all of the wisdom traditions–sacred texts from different cultures–that previously only a handful of people could access. Now you can download it all on the Internet. If you add the advances we’re making in the neurosciences and cognitive sciences to the teachings of the wisdom traditions, the result is an unprecedented interface between two diverse ways of knowing and being in the world. We’re suddenly being compelled to re-evaluate the significance of consciousness, and to confront the notion that our subjective and our objective dimensions are probably one and the same.

ROBERT: Dave, over the last ten years, what have you seen change in our perception of consciousness?

DAVE: The central change is a shift in science. Many scientists are now willing to take subjective data seriously, as legitimate data. Inner feelings and awareness are appreciated as real and manifest in the world. You have to take your own states of consciousness at least as seriously as, say, pointer readings on physical meters. Electronic recordings of the brain are data, but so also are accounts of inner experiences–all these are data, too. Many scientists are now prepared to consider consciousness as a real phenomenon, as something that can be connected to everything else. But that’s what science is about; it’s about building connections between different phenomena.

ROBERT: John, what are some of the traditional explanations for consciousness? Don’t critique them now; you’ll get your chance later.

JOHN: That’s hard to resist–critiquing them. The standard view, the one that the man and woman in the street believe, is usually dualism. Dualism is the idea that in addition to the physical world there’s a separate mental world–an independent mental reality of consciousness that’s not part of the ordinary physical world. In opposition to dualism is materialism, which is the prevailing view among professional experts–psychologists, philosophers, neurobiologists. And materialism is the idea that the material world is all there is, and either consciousness has to be reduced to brain states or computational states or something absolutely physical like that, or else it doesn’t really exist at all. So the big choice today is between dualism, which says that we live in two separate worlds, a mental world and a physical world, and materialism, which says no, it’s all physical.

ROBERT: Zombies, Dave. What are zombies, and what do zombies have to do with consciousness?

DAVE: Zombies don’t exist. That’s what’s interesting about them. Zombies are hypothetical creatures. They’re physically identical to you and me; they look the same. They walk, they talk, they behave; they’re incredibly sophisticated, just like we are–but they aren’t conscious. They have no inner lives, no awareness, no subjective experiences. This is what makes these strange, spooky beings zombies. Again, the interesting thing about zombies is that they don’t exist. We’re not zombies. And that’s precisely what we want a science of consciousness to explain. Why aren’t we zombies? Why are we conscious beings? Why did nature produce self-aware beings like us? We human are much more than this interesting physical structure of body and brain; we have subjective inner lives.

ROBERT: Your recent book, The Conscious Mind, makes a claim that consciousness is as much a fundamental building block of reality as is matter, energy, space, and time. Do you really believe that? Or are you just tweaking us a bit?

DAVE: Coming at the question of consciousness as a scientist, taking the scientific worldview, I ask simply, “What do we want to explain?” Let’s start with the data. There are two kinds of data about consciousness. There’s third-person data–what we observe about others: physical presences, biological structures, behavior, complex language, reactions, and the like. But then there’s also first-person data–what we observe about ourselves–and this data we have to take incredibly seriously. Included here are the internal subjective sensations that are highly personal–such as, what the mind “feels like” to us, the complex experience of vision, mental immersion, and thought. So data about consciousness can be bifurcated into third-person data and first-person data, and I think there’s reason to believe that these are irreducible to each other. What we want a science of consciousness to do is to take both persons seriously: the third-person data about brain and behavior and the first- person data about the mind and consciousness. We need to take inner experience as seriously as outer behavior, and connect them up in a systematic theoretical paradigm. And that’s what we need for a true science of consciousness.

ROBERT: Marilyn, as an anthropologist, you’re a leading researcher in parapsychology, which is the scientific study of anomalous, sometimes startling mental phenomena. How does parapsychology reflect on the nature of consciousness?

MARILYN: I think that we can assume that there’s a physical, material basis to consciousness; all we have to do is take a sledgehammer and bang somebody over the head to see a reduction in consciousness. The key question takes the next step and asks whether consciousness is anything more than what is physically or materially determined? Most cultures believe that we’re also capable of transcending this physical, material aspect of our being, that our consciousness is capable of stretching or expanding–stretching out into the world, expanding beyond our bodies. There’s a great deal of evidence in parapsychological research that suggests that there’s some non-local exchange of information–such as between two people (i.e., telepathy)–that at the very least extends our definition of materialism. Though it may provoke skepticism, statistically significant data from parapsychology begins to support some kind of dualistic model, which John [Searle] mentioned before.

ROBERT: Lest he be miscast, John didn’t mention dualism with much joy, but we’ll let him have at you later.

ROBERT: Jim, you’re a physicist who has written a book on consciousness, Are We Unique? What do you think–are we unique, and is consciousness a part of our uniqueness?

JIM: I think it’s possible to be a good twenty-first century materialist who thinks that the brain is a physical, chemical system that operates according to known, or at least knowable, laws and still think that there’s something different about human consciousness–something remarkable, which can’t be reproduced by machines and hasn’t been seen in animals. This was the “uniqueness” question I approached in my book. And I must tell you, it was a question about which, as a scientist, I had a deep emotional concern. How do you reconcile the scientific view of a human being as basically a machine with the first-person experience that Dave [Chalmers] talked about: the sure sense of my inner self that I am not a machine? That’s one of the things I try to get at.

ROBERT: And that’s a fundamental issue of human existence. Fred, you’re also a physicist, trained in theoretical quantum physics. Yet you’ve written extensively on the spiritual essence of the universe and on the spiritual nature of human beings. Give us your take on consciousness. Dualism? Materialism? Where do you stand?

FRED: I choose “C,” none of the above. We may be missing the boat here by adopting a view that one of these categories must be correct, whether empirical objectivity and physical materialism on the one hand or the rather archaic and simplistic dualistic models on the other. Possibly, there’s a third choice–a choice that says that there’s something beyond all materialism, beyond the physical world, out of which all reality, the whole of existence, projects. This would overwhelm traditional dualism–and I take this view not as a mystic but as a quantum physicist. I think that our most modern understanding of the physical world suggests that there may be an ineffable realm, a mystical realm, an “imaginal” realm, out of which the physical world pops into existence. Kind of like what [the German physicist and pioneer of quantum mechanics] Werner Heisenberg suggested when he brought the notion of consciousness into physics–when he said that it’s the observer that creates the observed simply by the act of observation. So I answer the question of consciousness not by speculating about what it is, but by specifying what it does.

ROBERT: Let’s get back to basics. Let’s get some traditional characteristics of consciousness.

JOHN: The obvious characteristic is the one we all experience when we wake up in the morning. There are these qualitative, subjective states of sensation or personal feelings or inner awareness. For every consciousness state, there’s something that it “feels like” to be in that consciousness state. So we know what it is to taste beer, and we know that tasting beer is different from feeling an itch, and that both are different from smelling roses, which is nothing like the sensation of eating steak, and all of these are feel different from thinking about mathematics. Now, all of these things we “feel like” are conscious states; they all have this qualitative, subjective, inner character. So consciousness is what happens when you wake up in the morning from a dreamless sleep, and it continues throughout the day until you go to sleep again, or get hit on the head, or die, or otherwise become unconscious.

ROBERT: But don’t all those “feel like” states of the mind relate directly to physiological states of the brain?

JOHN: Of course they do. In my worldview, there isn’t any question that consciousness is caused by brain processes. Anytime I have any doubts about that, all I have to do is take an aspirin, or drink too much whiskey, and I detect immediately the effect on my consciousness of changes in my brain.

ROBERT: Marilyn, what about this clear correspondences between mental states of the mind and physical states of the brain? When you drink too much alcohol, you do feel a little dizzy; when you get hit on the back of the head, you do see stars. Don’t these facts undermine arguments for the dualistic nature of consciousness?

MARILYN: We make certain assumptions, and right now–at this point in human history, in this culture–we have a materialist worldview and a physicalist, reductionist approach to existence, whereby all explanations are reduced to fundamental physical properties. Therefore the questions that scientists commonly ask today about the nature of consciousness derive from this materialist worldview. They ask physical kinds of questions. The physical nature of consciousness is very real, but perhaps we need a broader definition of what is physical. If you look at the wisdom traditions–Buddhism, for example-you see a materialist model, too, but this kind of materialism defines matter to be much more encompassing that what we currently maintain within the physicalist model that defines Western science.

ROBERT: Dave, why do you talk about “easy problems” and “hard problems” in the study of consciousness?

DAVE: There are many different problems of consciousness. Even the word “consciousness” doesn’t mean the same thing to all of us. When I’m talking about consciousness, I mean this. When you’re talking about consciousness, you mean that. So there are many problems. Problem one has to do with behavior. How is it that we’re able to get around in the world, to respond appropriately?” For example, I look at you and say, “That’s Robert.” I can behave towards you; I can point at you; I can talk about you.

ROBERT: Nicely, I hope.

DAVE: Only if you’re having a good day. But that’s what we might call the relatively easy problem of consciousness: how is it that I can behave toward you in this conscious way? Now, the hard problems of consciousness are the problems of first-person subjective experience. While I’m doing all this sensing, acting and behaving–looking at you, talking to you, talking about you–I’m also having inner, subjective experiences of you. It “feels like” something.

ROBERT: Simple as it sounds, this “feel like” question is fundamental for understanding the true nature of consciousness.

DAVE: Right. I have internal visual images of you; I have thoughts about you running through my mind, maybe even with a little emotional affect attached. But why is all this internal stuff going on? Why is there a first-person inner life at all? Granted, it’s probably connected, in some way, in my brain. But why is it that my brain processes produce these subjective experiences of inner awareness? That’s the hard problem.

ROBERT: Dave, do you see Jim [Trefil] over there? Usually he’s a nice guy. But in his book about consciousness, here’s what he wrote about you, and I paraphrase: If consciousness were a football game, you, Dave Chalmers, would forfeit right after the opening kickoff. In other words, he’s saying that you seem to have thrown up your hands and given up too quickly in simply rejecting the mainstream materialist view. Now, maybe the metaphor should have been rugby [Dave is Australian], but you get the point.

DAVE: Jim said that?

JIM: The point is that there’s a standard saying in the sciences that extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof. And so when you want to say, as Dave does, that we have to create this new category of reality which is somehow related to consciousness–or if you want to say that there’s this other kind of dimension or this undetected part of our world–the first thing I want to know is, Well, OK, why am I forced to consider this extreme possibility? Unless I see data saying that there’s no way that I can avoid this unlikely scenario–that there’s no way to explain all the things we’re talking about just on the basis of the physical brain alone–then I’m not going to take that next step. Until I see proof of that, I’m not going to look beyond the physical.

FRED: You can’t even explain physics without going beyond the physical! That’s the answer, and it’s very clear. If we talk about quantum mechanics, we have to talk about a quantum wave function, something that is clearly not material, not substantive, yet necessarily it has to exist in order to explain the simplest physical phenomena.

JOHN: But isn’t there a rather simple verbal shift that will at least get us to the point where we can address the same question? The traditional categories of the mental and the physical, as they’re commonly used in popular speech and even in much of the sciences, are essentially seventeenth century categories. And they’re really out of date. What we’re interested in is “How does the world work?” Now, one of the things I think we do know about the world is that consciousness exists. It’s a real phenomenon in a real world, and it’s a biological phenomenon caused by processes in the brain. Maybe consciousness is caused by some new kind of brain systems; we don’t know that yet. But certainly consciousness is caused in the brain. By the way, Jim, I was amazed that you were seeming to deny consciousness to animals. Let’s get serious here; there isn’t any doubt that my dog Ludwig is conscious.

JIM: So’s my dog.

ROBERT: We’re now going to compare dogs?

JIM: No, but the point I was making was this. Everyone has his or her own idea of how the brain will ultimately be determined to produce consciousness. My own particular idea comes from complexity theory–from what are called emergent properties. I think consciousness is an emergent property. Consciousness requires lots of neurons [the hundred billion cells in the brain that carry information as electrical impulses] to be stuck together, and like it or not, dogs have fewer neurons than humans do. This is very much like what John [Searle] said–that these categories of consciousness are a seventeenth century concept. We have this one word, “consciousness,” and it has to describe everything.

ROBERT: I agree that this same word has to subsume every possible collection of neurons, whether found in humans, dogs, or worms. We don’t yet know enough about the issue of mental awareness–let alone self-awareness–across species, and this is a problem, though I’m not sure it’s the problem. Jim, do you think there’s a significant difference between human consciousness and whatever exists of a similar nature in nonhuman animals?

JIM: Yes, I think so. At least you can make that argument. Someplace along the evolutionary track, you get to a certain complexity, and suddenly the properties of a system become fundamentally different. And such emergence has happened many times on the curious path to human beings–or to mammals or sea cucumbers.

JOHN: There are all kinds of differences between human and animal consciousness, but the essential thing is what Dave [Chalmers] was pointing to–namely, that they both have subjectivity, they both have these qualitative, inner experiences–and that’s what we are all trying to explain. How do these qualitative, inner experiences fit into the rest of the universe? And what I’m suggesting is that the traditional categories are not the way to pose the question.

DAVE: There’s no question that a really deep connection exists between the brain and consciousness. If you duplicate my brain in reality, you’re going to duplicate my consciousness in reality. You affect my brain, you affect my consciousness. The real question is, What is it about the brain that can explain consciousness? You can tell stories about how the neurons interact within the brain, such as how the prefrontal cerebral cortex produces motor responses [i.e., what happens in the brain to cause movements like fingers playing a piano]. This will explain only how I behave. It will explain how I can talk to you, and how I react to your constant questioning, and so on. Physical processes are really good for explaining physical structure and physical behavior. But once we get to consciousness, it seems that we’re dealing with a whole new class of problems. It’s no longer a problem about the structure and behavior of physical objects–it’s now about the internal qualitative feel of inner mental awareness. And here is where the standard method of physical explanations may well need to be amended.

JOHN: [To Dave Chalmers] Do you believe in levels of consciousness? Is a mouse conscious? A fly? A virus? A piece of wood?

DAVE: I think there are degrees of consciousness, and there are very different kinds of consciousness. We humans have a particularly complex consciousness, as expressed by our language and as represented by our concepts. And we are conscious of ourselves. Now take a dog. A dog may well be conscious of the world around it–the internal hunger, the external food, fire hydrants, other dogs. But it may not be conscious of itself in the same complex, self-aware way that humans are. Go on to a fly. A fly is still sort of looking out at the world, and it may have some really simple kind of visual perceptual field. I don’t see a reason to deny a simple kind of consciousness to a fly. The farther down you go on the chain of animal complexity, the more diminished the degree of consciousness, but it’s very much an open question.

ROBERT: Fred, how do you envision degrees of consciousness?

FRED: I’m not sure if the degree of consciousness ever diminishes. I’m not even sure that we humans are so super-conscious ourselves. I look at an anthill and I’m amazed at how human-like these simple creatures behave. The real question is trying to define what we mean by consciousness. This is the really crucial point that scientists need to think about. How do we define consciousness? What are the models we can use to approach the question? Materialism is not going to work. Pure subjectivity [i.e., idealism, the philosophical theory that only the mental is real and the physical is an illusion] is also not going to work. But something that somehow encompasses the two might work. This synthesis is what has to be brought about. Quantum mechanics might be the place to start to look. But even quantum mechanics is not going to be the final answer.

JOHN: I don’t see the problem. Definitions sometimes come in two kinds: There’s the detailed, comprehensive, technical definition that you give at the end of an investigation; we are nowhere near being able to do that for consciousness. But there’s also the commonsense definition, where you simply identify the target of an investigation; that’s rather easy. Let’s try the commonsense definition here: Consciousness consists of these qualitative, subjective, inner states. You pinch yourself and you produce an altered state of consciousness-that is, you feel a pain that you didn’t feel before. Now, that’s what we’re trying to explain. Eventually, of course, if we had a perfect science of the brain, we’d be able to give a comprehensive, scientific definition of consciousness. It would be like moving from the definition of water as a colorless, tasteless liquid to water as the molecule H2O with a precise bonding structure. Regarding consciousness, we’re still in the “colorless, tasteless liquid” phase. But there’s no fundamental problem.

ROBERT: Would that comprehensive, scientific definition of consciousness include the possible need for a separate entity or independent category?

JOHN: No separate entity, not for me. I don’t know about an independent category–but the point is that we want to be able to recognize that consciousness is a real feature in a real world. It’s a biological phenomenon. It’s real in the same sense that digestion or photosynthesis is real biological phenomena. We’re not going to get rid of consciousness, or show that it doesn’t really exist or that it’s all an illusion.

MARILYN: Let’s build on that idea. If consciousness is a construct as much as it is a process–and as we begin to try and do science on consciousness–we need to recognize the dichotomy between the first- person and the third-person data that Dave [Chalmers] offered us and expand it. We have our first-person subjectivity–that inner experience. We have the third-person objectivity, which we can study using electrodes and PET scans and different kinds of physiological monitoring techniques. But there is another “person.” I believe we must include in any appreciation of consciousness the second-person perspective, which is the relational aspect of consciousness. All of our concepts, our symbols, the meaning systems by which we can even have this conversation, are based on a shared set of cultural assumptions. I’d like to use this second-person perspective to comment on what Jim [Trefil] said–that until there are data to support the notion that there’s something more than a physical brain state of consciousness, he won’t be willing to buy it. I would say that a key to understanding consciousness is the problem of the second person. I seek the liberation of the second person in the study of consciousness. I believe that a second-person perspective provides a fresh set of assumptions, a new cognitive framework, in which we can formulate our opinions, ask our questions. And so I would submit that there are data out there suggesting that consciousness is more than just the brain–or at least suggesting that the brain’s capacities are far more than what we’ve currently reduced them to. But because our worldview–our Western scientific way of thinking–limits our assumptions, we interpret those data with a particular set of filters, which may limit our ability to actually get closer to truth about what is the nature of reality.

JIM: But now you’re introducing the interaction between two brains, which of course is much more complex than the processes within a single brain itself.

MARILYN: But you can’t have consciousness without a multiplicity of beings from all levels of psychological strata.

JOHN: It seems to me that you can have subjective states of awareness even if you’re Robinson Crusoe on a desert island. You don’t need a second-person perspective for consciousness. The point that Dave [Chalmers] was making–I was trying to make the same point–is that consciousness is a first-person mode of existence. Of course, you can’t have a fully developed consciousness, of the kind we have, without second-person activities as well. You need language, which you can’t have unless you can interact with other consciousnesses. Nor can you explain consciousness without appealing to the third-person fact that we have objectively existing brains in our skulls. But the actual existence of conscious states–the actual feeling of a pain, or the taste of the beer–these are first-person experiences.

ROBERT: Are you using a third-person analysis of biological processes to equate, say, gastric secretions in the stomach to consciousness “secretions” in the brain?

JOHN: Yes, absolutely. That’s the point I’m making. Maybe we can create consciousness artificially in some machine, but as far as we know to date, it exists only in human brains and in certain animal brains. And it’s probably not worthwhile worrying about how far down the biological strata consciousness goes. Since we don’t know how it works in our brain, we’re not yet ready to worry about flies.

ROBERT: Dave, do you agree with the gastric secretions analogy?

DAVE: The difference as far stomachs are concerned is that you can tell a physical story to make it transparently clear just why you find those gastric secretions there. You tell a physical story about the brain–how the neurons hook up to each other, how brain areas are wired together–and you can say that this is what produces consciousness, and probably it does, but does that explain why it produces consciousness? No. Consciousness seems to be an irreducible, further fact that seems to be tacked on to the story somewhere. What we need in the science of consciousness is an explanatory theory that connects brain processes and mental self-awareness.

JIM: Doesn’t that depend on what kind of explanation it turns out to be? Look at where we’re starting. It’s like sitting around in 1600 and arguing about electronics four hundred years in the future. We have no idea what the science of complexity is going to tell us about how the brain is organized.

ROBERT: I think it’s fashionable to underestimate how much we do know about the brain and overestimate how much there is yet to know. I’m not sure whether what there’s yet to know will qualitatively increase our understanding of the neural basis of first- or second-person consciousness.

JOHN: We do have one fact we can start with. We know that it happens–we know that the brain produces consciousness. Now, from the fact that we know that the brain does it, we can at least formulate a well-defined question: How does the brain do it? That’s the basis on which we have to proceed. Of course, it may turn out that our existing neurobiological paradigms are inadequate to explain the special essence of consciousness and maybe we need some complete scientific revolution. But we have to recognize that, one, consciousness exists, and two, consciousness is caused by the brain.

ROBERT: John, tell me about those who would take issue with you and deny altogether the very existence of consciousness. The brain is real, they contend, but consciousness is not. What are their best arguments? I want you to honestly be your own opponent here.

JOHN: I’ve dealt with these guys for years; I don’t have any problem telling you their arguments.

ROBERT: I’m listening carefully.

JOHN: OK, here we go. Their argument goes as follows: Science demonstrates that the way the world works is entirely physical or material. Nothing exists that is not physical. Therefore if some people still believe that consciousness requires something else to exist–something in addition to the physical, some touchy-feely, airy-fairy kind of stuff like Searle kind of talks about–then it must be unscientific and hence imaginary. Consciousness can’t be anything like that. So consciousness is in fact an illusion–an artificial, artifactual, deceptive illusion generated by!K, and here follows whatever your favorite theory is. Nowadays the favorite theory is “by computer programs in our brains,” and these programs, we’re told, is all that consciousness ever was. How about that? Was that honest enough?

DAVE: For much of this century, science has been afraid of subjectivity. Science is meant to be objective, right? No subjective elements allowed. But consciousness is subjective by its very nature, so some people conclude, by a priori definition, either that science can’t touch consciousness or that consciousness doesn’t exist.

ROBERT: It’s interesting how the latest brain theory always employs the latest technology–modern mechanisms as modern metaphors. At the beginning of the century, the brain was likened to a telephone exchange, with wires plugging and unplugging. Then electronic circuits, then simple computers, then holograms. Remember the hologram period of brain theory, where all parts of the brain stored all the same memories? Recently, the metaphors have grown more intricate, with parallel computing, and now even quantum physics and complexity theory.

JOHN: Look back all the way to the Greeks. Greek thinkers thought that the brain was a kind of catapult.

FRED: There’s something very important that we’re leaving out. Even the notion of a subject is questionable. Take Buddhism’s concept of consciousness: there is no subject. It’s something that arises momentarily, spontaneously, and then disappears.

ROBERT: Fred, is consciousness a useful concept?

FRED: Well, sociologically, we need to understand consciousness, because we build pictures of the world based upon how we envision the world. If we can understand how brains are conditioned by certain ways of seeing, if we can understand how differences in perceiving can yield differences in actions, then I think we’ve come a long way. Take some mundane examples: In advertising, how do images and ideas affect the minds of the audience? In politics, why did we choose this candidate and not that one? In Hollywood, why do we like that movie star and not this one? All of these attitudes have to do with the nature of our human consciousness.

ROBERT: Jim, wouldn’t many of your fellow physicists believe that research funds spent on consciousness would be more productively employed in building larger accelerators?

JIM: No, I think there’s a pretty good recognition that the study of the brain, in which I embed the study of consciousness, is the real frontier for the next century. What happened, as John [Searle] alluded to, is that we now think we understand how to ask the questions. We start with neurons. We understand a little bit about how the brain works and we see how we can understand a whole lot more. And that’s why, in the scientific community, brains are hot.

MARILYN: At this point, I don’t think we do know the right questions to ask about consciousness. I think we’re just beginning to formulate some questions, let alone come up with any answers about the nature of this great mystery.

ROBERT: John, do you think that the wisdom traditions and religion can make significant contributions to the study of consciousness?

JOHN: I’m open minded. My theory is, use any weapon you can lay your hands on, use any data you can find. If you can get interesting data from mystics or swamis or people in altered states, that’s fine by me; just use all the weaponry you can. But I think that when ultimately we solve the problem of consciousness, we’ll have done it by examining actual biological mechanisms. You’re going to have to get deep into the thalamo-cortical system and find out how these critical brain processes work.

ROBERT: But once we do, when we have finally worked out a comprehensive biological mechanism of consciousness, will you then be satisfied that consciousness is completely explained?

JOHN: Absolutely!

ROBERT: Marilyn, will you satisfied by biology alone?

MARILYN: I would say that a complete explanation of consciousness will require an integrated research agenda. Surely we acknowledge the physical dimensions that John [Searle] and Jim [Trefil] refer to, but we also need to recognize that consciousness can’t be completely explained in isolation from other people–there’s a social, cultural dimension. Going further, I also think there’s compelling data to suggest that consciousness also includes a transpersonal component, something beyond individual awareness. The mystics and sages of all the ages haven’t all been deluded; their insights and visions can’t all be categorically rejected. Ultimately, a complete explanation of consciousness is going to have to accommodate these various perceptions.

ROBERT: It seems we’ve found a fundamental disagreement here.

JOHN: I don’t think there’s any out-of-brain consciousness.

ROBERT: And you do, Fred?

FRED: I’m convinced there is. I rely not only on my readings of the traditions of many cultures and religions, but also on some extraordinary experiences that I personally have had with shamans in various parts of the world.

ROBERT: Jim, no out-of-body consciousness for you, right?

JIM: I’ll keep an open mind, but right now I don’t see why we need it.

DAVE: John says that consciousness is caused by the brain, that consciousness arises from the brain. But I think there can be subtle problems with cause and effect. Cause and effect are often different things. So even if consciousness does arise from the brain, it isn’t at all clear that consciousness must therefore be reducible to the brain. One must keep these two separate domains distinct, even if interwoven, in their fundamental natures.

ROBERT: A summary question: Fast forward a hundred years. What has happened to consciousness?

JOHN: In a hundred years, and I hope before that, we’re going to know how the brain does it. As we talk here, there are very confident people working on precisely this question: By what processes, exactly, do human and animal brains cause consciousness–and I think we’re going to know the answer to that.

MARILYN: We’ll recognize the limits of a strictly physical, materialist model. We’ll have begun to embrace some of the expanded aspects of our being so that we can grapple with the serious social problems that we’re facing today.

JIM: I think we’ll understand the brain in terms of neurons, and we’ll understand how this phenomenon of consciousness arises from that.

ROBERT: Fred, I hope you don’t agree with these guys.

FRED: Well, I don’t entirely disagree, bit I’ll reverse it. What we’re going to understand in a hundred years is possibly how consciousness creates brains! And how brains arise from the messiness of reality.

DAVE: I think we’ll be closer to creating a sort of fundamental principle connecting physical processes and processes of conscious experience. When we have a simple set of fundamental principles–like the laws of physics–then we’ll have a theory of consciousness.

ROBERT: CONCLUDING COMMENT

YOU are not a zombie, and you know it. What it means to be conscious directly affects what it means to be human. The strongest current theory is that consciousness is a complex, emergent property of the brain–a property not easily, or perhaps not ever, reducible to simple states of the brain. This means that consciousness “emerges” from all the complex electrical and chemical activities in our brains, something like an atomic bomb “emerges” from a critical mass of uranium or a molecule of water “emerges” from two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen. So while consciousness is produced by the brain, we may never know quite how. But I can’t shake the thought that consciousness may also be something else–a more fundamental description of self-aware beings like us, a special part of reality.
With philosophers and physicists disagreeing among themselves, it is good that consciousness studies is becoming a scientific field of great promise. For now, this divergence of opinion is what brings us closer to truth.

Editor’s Comments:

Reductive materialists “just don’t get it.” They presume incorrectly that reverence for the Scientific Method dictates a reductive materialist worldview in which only physical matter is “real.” They insist incorrectly that consciousness, specifically human consciousness, is somehow “unreal,” and does not qualify as scientific data worthy of systematic study. When reductive materialists do this they commit a glaring scientific, not to mention philosophical blunder.

By treating “physical” as a synonym for “real” and dismissing consciousness as “unreal,” reductive materialists are guilty of defining consciousness out of existence via semantic sleight of hand. If in order to be considered “real” something must be physical, then anything non-physical will automatically be classified as “unreal.” By asserting in advance what they are obligated to prove, reductive materialists are being flagrantly unscientific. In mathematics this is referred to as “begging the question,” and constitutes a serious error in logic.


Genuine science deals with reality. Reality is that which exists. Matter exists, but so does consciousness. Since consciousness exists, it is real. Since it exists, it is not “unreal.” When one experiences a gut-wrenching anxiety, a heart-rending emotional loss, a conceptual breakthrough, or a flash of spiritual insight, that feeling, that emotion, that thought, that insight exists. It is not “nothing.” It is real. Consciousness is not the same as matter of course. Consciousness is different from matter. But that does not make consciousness “unreal,” it merely makes it different. It merely makes it another component of reality.

Many “scientifically-minded” Western rationalists still do not grok certain simple yet ancient truths: The soul is real. The mind is real. The spirit is real. These truths were understood millennia ago by great sages such as Sakyamuni and Laozi. The soul, the mind, the spirit can neither be defined out of existence nor reduced to mere matter. Not even gray matter in the brain.

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: What Is Consciousness?
Illustration(s): David Chalmers, John Searle, Marilyn Schlitz, James Trefil, Fred Alan Wolf, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Source: http://www.closertotruth.com/topics/mindbrain/107/107transcript.html
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Can We Imagine the Far Future — Year 3000? (我們能不能想像長遠的未來 — 3000 A.D.?)

Can We Imagine the Far Future — Year 3000? (我們能不能想像長遠的未來 — 3000 A.D.?)
[創意組織 ]
(2003/08/12)

Can We Imagine the Far Future–Year 3000?

TRY imagining what the world will be like in the year 3000. Some serious thinkers are starting to do just that. But can our minds even project that far? How will we work, play, propagate, communicate, worship, wonder? What forms of bodies will we have? What will our cities look like? How many nations will there be? How long will we live? What technologies will be available to us? What about family, business, government, education? How deep into space will humans have ventured? How many people will live on Earth? How strange will it be? Most of us don’t know what we’ll be doing a year from now; why then should we care about what our descendents will be doing a thousand years from now? It’s fun to speculate, sure; but envisioning the year 3000 may be more than an idle exercise or mere amusement. Our time-traveling futurists explain.

PARTICIPANTS

Edward de Bono, the author of more than fifty books on thinking and creativity, teaches new ways of thinking to diverse groups around the world. Edward foresees abbreviated, high-speed language; he also expects a world of all women and no men–or is he playing with us?

Dr. Bart Kosko, the author of The Fuzzy Future, is a professor of electrical engineering at USC. Bart presents his vision of “Heaven on a chip,” along with other startling opinions.

Graham Molitor is the author of numerous articles and books on the future and coeditor of the Encyclopedia of the Future. How can Graham forecast details of the next thousand years so confidently?

Dr. Bruce Murray, a futurist and former director of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is a professor of planetary science and geology at Caltech. Bruce stresses communications and considers how humanity may join “the galactic community.”

Dr. Gregory Stock, the author of Metaman and The book of Questions, is the director of UCLA’s Program on Medicine, Technology, and Society, Greg believes that we are now in an extraordinary evolutionary transition, which he views with excitement and optimism.

ROBERT: Graham, you’re the chief spokesperson for the World Future Society and the author of an upcoming book on the next thousand years. Considering the unimaginable advances in the last hundred years, how can you be presumptuous enough to predict the next thousand years?

GRAHAM: The answer is simple. All of the recorded history of humankind–and even prehistory–is nothing more than an evolutionary, step-by-step march down a path of progress, and the ideas that shape tomorrow cast long shadows and leave lots of footprints in the sands of time. The path may meander, but it has a certain sequence through which it passes and which is easy to discern. There are many ways of conceiving, tracking, and timing trends that are inevitable but not foreordained.

ROBERT: Aren’t you ignoring discontinuities?

GRAHAM: Discontinuities simply indicate that people haven’t done their homework.

ROBERT: We’ll be challenging that later. Bart, you’ve stated that our brains–which you politely call “meat”–don’t communicate very well, that brains are just nature’s first flimsy attempt at using meat to compute, and that biology is not destiny. Are electronic chips our destiny?

BART: I don’t know that [present-day] electronic chips are, but some sort of chips–I’d guess maybe plastic. Our three-pound brain is definitely a marvel, perhaps the greatest marvel of natural biology, but from an engineering point of view it’s a fiasco. In this coming century, we’ll be re-engineering the brain a piece at a time, initially with implants and other supplements and ultimately engineering an outright replacement. There’s no question that in the distant future we’ll play the music of the mind on instruments different from the current ones. So, yes, chips are our destiny.

ROBERT: Bruce, you’re president of The Planetary Society, which is the largest public-participation organization concerned with space, and you’re a leading advocate of space exploration. A thousand years from now, where will humanity be in space?

BRUCE: Well, of course, we don’t know in a narrow sense, but we can envision the possibilities. Certainly the limitations of the corpus that we carry around with us will have been overcome in many ways, on earth as well as in space. But how far out into space we go as corporal beings is anybody’s guess. I’m a geologist by training and a fairly conservative person, so I have a hard time seeing much beyond Mars. But the potential is enormous, whether we go physically or robotically.

ROBERT: Greg, you’re a biophysicist who studies the impact of technology on society. Your book Metaman sees the merging of humans and machines into a global superorganism. You’re an optimist about the next thousand years. Why?

GREG: I’m optimistic because I think the prevailing view–that we’re out of balance with the natural world and heading toward some sort of deadly reckoning–is absolutely wrong. Modern technology is a very robust development, of extraordinary evolutionary significance. I think we’re in the midst of an evolutionary transition as significant as the one that occurred when single cells joined together 700 million years ago to form multicellular organisms. Things occurring now are unprecedented in the history of life–space travel, genetic engineering, artificial intelligence.

ROBERT: And this show.

GREG: Well, I don’t know about this show, but this is an extraordinary moment to be alive as observers, participants, and architects of the future.

ROBERT: EDWARD:, for decades you’ve been showing the world how to think more creatively, how to break the bonds of traditional thinking. Are we seeing the year 3000 too simplistically, almost as if it were just the year 2000 on steroids?

EDWARD: The answer is yes. In 3000 perhaps the biggest difference from today is that there will be no more men. Females can have female children, without any need for men. In about ten years, we’ll find the hormone cocktail that women can take to have female children. There’ll be no need for men at all.

ROBERT: Will the world be a better place?

EDWARD: Oh, yes. And this show will be archival material. Women will take it out of the video store and say, “Look, those are men; aren’t they funny?”

ROBERT: We can go even further than female and male. How about carbon systems versus silicon systems, biological life versus robotic intelligence? Bruce, you’ve thought some about this.

BRUCE: Yes. What’s going on in our own lifetimes–the extraordinary development of computing and communications, things that operate in silicon, with capabilities similar to those of human beings–these are some of those footprints in the sand. The Antarctic explorer Ernest Shackleton was probably as good an explorer as any that ever lived, but with the computational and communications tools we have today, to say nothing of the biomedical ones, Shackleton’s reach can’t compare with ours. Clearly, we live in a time of human-machine fusion. The pictures we have of Mars, say, come from machines (silicon) but make sense only to people (carbon). When we see Martian landscapes with our own eyes, in real time, we’re somehow transported there. And that’s just the very beginning of this extraordinary period, which is at most only a few decades old.

ROBERT: Bart, take us out to the end of that period. Give us your rendition of Heaven on a chip.

BART: What is Heaven? Heaven’s a place where you can create worlds at will, and the ideal Heaven is where you run the whole thing yourself. The current means of getting to Heaven involve various supernatural systems for which, at this point, there’s no scientific evidence. So I think we can reduce Heaven to an engineering project, which we’re doing. The demand for Heaven is great–witness the desire of every human heart, from the people who built the ancient pyramids to modern society, to live beyond one’s biologically allotted time. Our plan is ultimately to transfer human consciousness from the brain to bits of information in a computer chip, or some other kind of computational medium, so that just by thinking–that act of volition–we’ll be able to create our own personal world. And I think the first stage of Heaven will be the sensory world, and beyond that I think we’d hit a higher, spiritual plane.

ROBERT: So we download our personalities into silicon, into electronic chips enormously more sophisticated than anything imaginable today, so that we can then live as hardwired, superdense circuitry, virtually forever?

BART: Just take the example of your past. You can’t remember a great deal of what you did three years ago. But if you had the detailed richness of that experience wholly embedded in a chip, you could not only relive it at will, you could edit it at will, modifying it thousand of times in innumerable creative ways.

GREG: Maybe you wouldn’t want to.

BART: Maybe you wouldn’t want to.

ROBERT: But you could. It’s all about options–that’s Bart’s vision.

EDWARD: The emphasis on machines and chips is a possibility. But there’s so much more to do with what I call human software. Human language at the moment is incredibly slow and primitive. One of the things I’ve been working on is a language that’s twenty times as fast as normal language and could go up to fifty times as fast. Human-being-to-human-being communication, with no chips involved. We’re below the potential of our biological systems, way below. We’re stuck in old-fashioned, crabby ways of using our minds.

GREG: We have two processes going on at the same time: our biology is becoming determined by design and more mechanized, and our machines are becoming more complex; we’re breeding complexity into them so that they’re becoming more lifelike. And so which side will win is really-

ROBERT: Is this a competition?

GREG: Well, it’s not a competition, in that there’s a symbiosis and we have all sorts of machine extensions. But the ultimate question is, What will become the central core: expanded human biology or transformed intelligent machines?

BRUCE: I’m a little concerned about the drift of this conversation, because it sounds kind of technocratic–the world as seen by a bunch of physicists or biologists or electrical engineers–and I don’t think we all feel that way. I certainly don’t, because there is the intuitive dimension and the moral [and existential] issues of why we’re here–and these issues aren’t going to go away. None of them
are affected by technology, though the questions and answers may become more complex. So I think we ought to separate the issue of what form our humanity will take–separate that issue from the power we’ll have, intellectually and otherwise, through the use of our machines.

ROBERT: But the technocrats’ argument is that their high-tech world becomes so powerful and so dominant that it simply overpowers moral or existential issues.

GREG: Humanity is being ripped free from its past.

ROBERT: Free from the constraints, superstitions, and intellectual hypocrisies that shackled humanity for thousands of years. This is also part of the technocratic argument, and I use the term non-pejoratively; it’s also the humanistic argument. And I’m not saying that it’s all true or good, but there is surely some truth and goodness there.

GREG: There’s going to be a tremendous loss. It’s going to be a traumatic time that we’re moving into, because such change does not come easily. We have a huge population being torn free from their past, and that will produce stress.

EDWARD: There are things that we can make available to masses of people to help them make better use of their brains. We just haven’t made any effort to do this. We put billions into space travel; if you put that amount into developing human software for the brain, you could transform the human race.

GREG: Take an example. If you could extend the human life span, if you could double it, would you do it?

EDWARD: I don’t think that’s so important. The better use of what we underuse is what’s important. It doesn’t matter whether you live long or don’t live long.

BART: Edward [De Bono], we’re talking about a thousand years from now, not a hundred years from now.

EDWARD: In a thousand years, we could communicate in ten seconds what now takes thirty minutes.

GREG: So what?

EDWARD: We could communicate much higher concepts, better ideas, more human languages.

GREG: That’s all we get for a thousand years?

GRAHAM: Let me go to a different level here. The man-machine interface and biotechnology–all that will work OK, but the real key when you’re looking ahead a thousand years is to take an anthropological look at the biometrics of human development. If you trace back to our earliest ancestors and project forward, the average weight for an adult male by the year 3000 is likely to be 180 to 210 pounds, which means a bigger biomass to feed.

EDWARD: What’s the basis for that? How do you get that?

ROBERT: Aren’t you just extrapolating–projecting what might happen in the future based on what did happen in the past?

GRAHAM: Nothing wrong with linear progression. It’s not extrapolation–there’s a difference. There’s a continuous thread of development that ties together human height, weight, life expectancy, cranial capacity–all of these things–so that you can make some judgments about the future of the human species.

EDWARD: But within one generation, we could halve human size. Then you’d have about four times as much space in the world, eight times as much food. How do you do it? There’s something on the surface of the cell that absorbs growth hormone. We can produce antibodies so that it won’t.

GREG: Anybody here want to be half his size?

EDWARD: We’d have four times the space, eight times the food.

GREG: You can say we’d have four times the space as a society, but what individuals would want to be half their current size? None!

ROBERT: A fundamental issue–open to challenge–is Graham’s thesis that we can forecast the future based on some sophisticated methods.

BRUCE: I don’t know what the world or the solar system are going to be like in a thousand years–much less our descendants. What I do know is that we’re living through an unprecedented period of time right now; our parents did, to some extent, and our children certainly will. It happens once in the history of the world, when the population saturates the earth, when humans become a perturbing force on the planet, changing it as a consequence. It happens only once, and we happen to be living in that period. And so that’s the big news. We’re going through a cultural transformation, a viewpoint transformation; that’s why I don’t go along with taking some kind of average pattern for the past and trying to project it forward. It’s obviously not going to work. Everything goes off the scale if you’re just projecting linearly.

ROBERT: You’ve talked about humanity maturing and, in your words, joining the galactic community.

BRUCE: Right, right.

ROBERT: Do you mean this metaphorically, or do you think there are literally other civilizations out there waiting for us to grow up?

BRUCE: I mean it literally, but of course it’s intuition. I cannot imagine, out of all the possible habitats for beings like us throughout the universe, that there’s just one success and we happen to be it. But that’s a possibility; it can’t be ruled out until we get definitive evidence [of alien intelligence]. I predict we’ll get that evidence within fifty years.

BART: But even without extraterrestrial contact, humans will tend to expand exponentially in all directions. We’re surely going to conquer the solar system, and once we’ve done that we’re going to conquer–

BRUCE: Who’s the enemy?

BART: By “conquer” I mean taking it over, controlling it, living on it. I think the first [space colonists] will be the conquistadors of science–and then we’ll get beyond that. Maybe it’ll be robots or their intellectual offspring that will venture farther out into the galaxy. Whether we find any alien life or not–and it may be better if we don’t–humans historically do tend to expand their sphere of habitation, in a mathematical sense, very quickly.

GREG: The real question is, How are we going to deal with so deep and profound a transformation? It’s going to be very, very challenging to all of our institutions–to everything that has gone before.

ROBERT: A thousand years, this incredible time of transition, is really a very short period, cosmologically speaking. The universe, it seems, will stretch on for thousands of billions of years and still, cosmologists say, it won’t even have reached adolescence [current estimates are that all the stars won’t burn out for about 100 trillion years). That’s the deep fascination.

EDWARD: And just the last hundred years have seen unimaginable change.

ROBERT: That’s the point.

EDWARD: So another thousand years is not a short time; it’s a long, long time.

ROBERT: Sure, it’s unthinkably long on our personal timescale, but it fits between single heartbeats on the universe’s timescale. We just can’t imagine it.

GREG: It’s boggling even to look out a thousand years, because most of the changes we’re speculating about will take place just within the next century.

BRUCE: Let me try a different cut at this. I wrote a book once–it’s a rare but not valuable book–called Navigating the Future. I wrote it back in 1975, and I looked at a range of extreme scenarios, the outermost situations I could imagine–the idea being that as you imagine maximum shifts you can get deeply inside of the present. And it turned out that there was a natural structure that emerged. One was what I called the crunch–the exponential-growth model we’re now living through, with uncontrolled changes and social dislocations. And then you have to believe that something happens after that, which I called the “afterward.” However these forces are resolved, pleasantly or not, the model levels off, because it’s physically impossible to keep growing like this; the instability would tear the biosphere apart. So what all this says to me is that the key to the future is governance–that is, how humanity learns to govern itself.

BART: So government is destiny?

BRUCE: Not government, governance.

ROBERT: I have a specific question. A thousand years from now, how many nations will there be in the world? These are your choices–orders of magnitude–one, ten, a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand?

EDWARD: Ten thousand.

BRUCE: Probably a federation of a hundred and fifty to two hundred. Or zero, because the concept will have disappeared. I’ll give you zero.

GREG: I agree. The idea of nations is being transcended and there will be all sorts of levels of control, from local to global.

EDWARD: Like the human body.

BRUCE: Governance will be distributed in many ways. For example, your letters move around the world, and airplanes fly around the world, without any one polity being in charge. There are agreements, for these and many different functions.

BART: Bruce, you don’t have mail on Sunday. You have this crude merger of church and state and it still exists at the height of the information age.

BRUCE: So big deal.

BART: The power lust is so strong in humans–about ninety-eight-plus percent of our DNA is identical to that of chimpanzees–that as we increase computing and communication power [and its ubiquitous dominance of humankind], that power lust is going to go right along with it, and the outcome may be one big world government. If government can rule you, it will rule you; that’s always been true throughout human history.

EDWARD: But if you look at the human body, there are billions of cells; each one is autonomous, has its own energy, is affected by certain hormones, yet they all work together. I think we’ll separate into thousands of little nations, where there’s a city, a village, or an autonomous region. There’ll be some system of communal communication–like the bloodstream carrying hormones–but each unit will be self-sufficient and capable of managing its own affairs.

GREG: I think the real kinds of questions for a thousand years from now are, What will humans be? How human will we be? Will we even be human?

ROBERT: Genetic engineering is so powerful and the acceleration of technology is so dramatic that those are legitimate questions.

GREG: We’re at a point where we need only a few decades to seriously alter our own genetics. How, then, can we even imagine where we will be in a thousand years?

BART: Humans are political animals–that’s a polite way of saying we love power. I wish I could share your optimism here, but from the evidence of the twentieth century and what I’ve seen of the past, I can’t.

GREG: This is the longest period without a major international war between major powers–

BART: As we tape this show right now, there are something like forty wars going on in the world.

GRAHAM: There are some hundred and sixty armed conflicts.

ROBERT: One could argue that there’s more turmoil today than ever before. But I’m tired of war; and since we’ve already dealt with the future of love, so let’s go to the future of work.

EDWARD: Work is going to be interesting. Already in the United States there are more people employed in the fast-food industry than in the whole of manufacturing.

BART: But fast food is manufacturing.

EDWARD: Fast food is a service industry.

BART: It’s hamburger manufacturing.

EDWARD: It’s a service industry.

ROBERT: And I’m trying to get agreement on a thousand years from now?

EDWARD: The point is that all of our manufacturing production will be automated and robotized. A few people will be involved in service industries. In the European Union, it’s estimated that within ten years one percent of the working population will be employed in call centers, just sitting there taking orders for sweaters or hamburgers. In other words, we’re going to end up like the [ancient] Greeks, whose greatest joy in life was writing vindictive speeches about one another while slaves did all the work.

GRAHAM: Edward’s right in his vision but wrong with his numbers, and that makes a difference when you’re projecting the present to forecast the future. Two hundred years ago, over ninety percent of the American workforce was involved in agricultural or extractive industries. Today, the number on the farm is down to two percent or less, and even so, seventy to eighty percent of many of our crops are exported. We have this prodigious output, thanks to our technology. The same trends will continue. All our basic needs–food, shelter, clothing, education–will be satisfied in a thousand years.

ROBERT: Are we forgetting reality? Maybe we should invite Dr. Pangloss to join us. Bart, what do you think about all this optimism?

BART: Well, I’m an optimist, despite my pessimism about human nature. I think in the end it will work out, which means that most of us will achieve some kind of Heaven in a chip.

GREG: It’s important to remember how long a thousand years really is. The black death–the bubonic plague–killed forty percent of the population of the known world in the fourteenth century. That seems a distant shadow now. So even if humanity has to endure severe trauma in the next couple of centuries, it won’t have a large impact ultimately.

EDWARD: I think we’ll sit in corners letting designer drugs stimulate our pleasure centers, hallucinating, while technology does all the work.

ROBERT: That would be an awful world.

EDWARD: It will be an awful world.

BRUCE: I see a somewhat different trend. Hominids, as distinguished from other animals, have been toolmakers. Man the toolmaker–that’s what has led to both the good and the bad. And what are the tools? First they were mechanical, then they made use of various energy sources, then–

EDWARD: Language, language, language.

BRUCE: Language, actually, was developed in response to these tools–writing, too. My point is that the key technology that runs through all of this is communications. Humans, in essence, are a communicating organism. We started as a very dispersed species, became more organized in cities, and then came mass communications. The invention of the printing press brought books to large populations. Then, in this century, radio and television completely changed the psychology and social setting of most of the world’s people.

ROBERT: And now, of course, the Internet.

BRUCE: And now we’re on the verge of what I think is a millennial kind of event–interactive communications and education. The former stuff has all been one-way, blazing out at you. Now it’s becoming interactive, two-way: the Internet itself is bottom-up, self-organizing, self-adapting, very powerful. Society is undergoing profound change in response to the Internet. What’s ahead a thousand years from now, with even better communications, more miniaturizing? I see human society much more together, with an almost literal planetary consciousness–and I hope we’ll also be communicating with other societies elsewhere in the universe.

ROBERT: Greg, in a thousand years will we be having regular communications with alien civilizations?

GREG: The real question is, Why haven’t we had it to date? If life is as present in the universe as many imagine it is–which seems reasonable–consider this. Our galaxy is only a hundred thousand light-years across, so if an intelligent species were to take even a thousand years to move out just one light-year [and colonize], they would [geometrically expand and] fill the whole galaxy within a hundred million years, which on a universal timescale is a very short period. So why no contact? The most obvious possibilities are either that (1) such an advanced species is already here but are so transformed that we can’t recognize them; or (2), they’re staying home watching TV–meaning that virtual realities have become so compelling that it’s not meaningful for them to expand into the universe, because there are much more interesting and entertaining things going on at home.1

{FOOTNOTE}1 There are other possible explanations why there has been no alien contact. For one, the development of intelligent life–as opposed to organic chemistry or even simple life forms–may be so exceedingly improbable that there might not be another example in our galaxy or even in the communicable universe. For another, it would take several billion years for a technologically adept species to develop–witness our own evolution. There would be no reason to suppose that such other civilizations would have developed more or less at the same time we did, either. They may have arrived in this area before our solar system formed (unlikely, but possible). They may arrive two billion or five billion years from now, by which time we hopefully will have gone somewhere else.

EDWARD: What you’re saying is, If they’re stupider than we, they can’t communicate; and if they’re more intelligent, they don’t want to.

BRUCE: No, I think you’re missing the real point. Assuming that there are alien civilizations and they do wish to communicate, the last way they would do it would be to send a spaceship with someone or something inside of it. The most efficient means of intergalactic communications is by some kind of electromagnetic signal–not just radio or infrared, maybe something else. That’s the obvious way to communicate.

ROBERT: You haven’t found any signals yet.

GRAHAM: But we’re looking, though our methods are still primitive compared to all the possible–

BART: It’s too soon to say.

BRUCE: Yes. This is the great exploration. If we continue the search for a hundred years and still don’t detect any alien signals, then maybe we are alone. Within a hundred years, we will have imaged Earth-like planets of nearby stars and tracked billions of frequencies from all over the universe. And if out of all that there’s nothing, the answer may be that we truly are alone, and then there may be a biblical return.

ROBERT: You’ll be applying to a seminary?

BART: I think Greg made the key point here, which is our fascination with entertainment and what I see as the movement toward becoming high-tech couch potatoes–whom we’ll inevitably call “chip potatoes,” not to be confused, of course, with potato chips. Our consciousness just may be in such chips, and once we’ve been uploaded, we can communicate directly with other consciousnesses in other chips. Right now, minds can’t converse directly with each other, except by means of crude verbal vibrations, because skulls get in the way. It will be very different when we’ve been uploaded into a chip in some form and complex collections of chips interact. At a minimum, it would be like allowing the ants crawling around in an airplane to have a sense of what the airplane is and how they all fit into the global economy. I just don’t think we can accommodate those kinds of thoughts in our three pounds of [cerebral] meat right now.

EDWARD: Why would we want to communicate? You communicate because you think someone is going to tell you something useful. Well, we’ll have all our material needs taken care of technically. You communicate because it’s going to give you pleasure. If we can stimulate our pleasure senses directly, why should we bother to communicate?

BART: For example, there’s never been a multi-authored symphony. It requires just too much focused, concentrated thought. I think there’ll be all kinds of collectively created art and science and other things. It’s just not physically feasible to do that now.

GRAHAM: Let me suggest a statistical dimension. Our galaxy, relatively minor on the scale of things, has an estimated 200 billion to 450 billion stars. There are something like 100 billion galaxies in the [observable] universe. Many of these individual stellar systems may have up to twenty or thirty planets with lunar-type satellites and asteroids. The statistical probability of life elsewhere is so enormously probable that–

ROBERT: But that makes the question–Where are they?–that much more compelling. We should also differentiate between the probability of life and intelligent life.

BART: The volume of space is so vast–just as the volume of the ocean is much vaster than the surface, because it’s in three dimensions rather than two–that we haven’t begun, in any statistically interesting sense, to search it. On the other hand, there may be nothing to search for.

ROBERT: Is speculating about the next thousand years more serious than merely an evening’s good fun?

BRUCE: I think it is. It’s also fun, of course, because it’s unlimited. But we’re in this enormous transformation, and things that we do or don’t do in our own lifetimes will have very far-reaching effects. For example, in a thousand years there may be no natural world left at all. There may be no primitive languages recorded any more. The past may be completely gone. That would be a tragedy; we might have a stable world, but we wouldn’t have a rich world. So why we worry about these things is to be sure that we act as visionaries in this present period of time. We’re consuming like mad, bulldozing everything–

BART: And innovating like mad to balance it.

ROBERT: Do you really care about what will happen that far in the future?

BART: Sure I care! But we’re innovating at a rate that seems to exceed our consumption.

GREG: And these images of the future reflect back and alter the present–which is a problem. Some of the current images, which suggest that we’re moving toward some sort of a reckoning, that our development is not robust, that we’re out of sync with the natural world–these sorts of images are very destructive. I don’t think that’s the case at all.

EDWARD: What we forget is that millions of years ago the dolphins met in the sea and said, “Look, why do we want to go back on land? We’ve got to support our own weight, we’ve got to make tools, we’ve got to learn new tricks to survive, we’re much better off where we are.” In other words, a decision that development is not necessarily the best direction to go.

GREG: But to act as though that’s a decision, an intentional decision, is ludicrous.

EDWARD: Why? Why?

GREG: I mean, we’re embarked upon an evolution…

EDWARD: Why?

GREG: Because dolphins didn’t sit around in a huddle and say, “We’re going to stay in the water because–“

EDWARD: How do you know that? How do you know that?

GREG: We’re essentially caught on a treadmill: our technologies are creating all sorts of problems that can only be dealt with by our technologies.

ROBERT: What happens to traditional religion over the course of this new millennium?

BART: I would argue that religions will survive the onslaught of science. There’ll be great competition among them. If I had to predict the winner a thousand years from now, I’d pick Buddhism. People like how the Buddha enjoyed life–feasts and all that-and then broke through to the other side.

ROBERT: Fast forward a thousand years for predictions. What characterizes human life in the year 3000?

GRAHAM: Economics is the linchpin that holds society together. I think it’ll go through five phases. Communications will dominate for twenty years, and then it’ll be the recreation-entertainment industry complex. Next will be life sciences; beyond that nanotechnologies, the manipulation of atomic matter. Along the way, energy, including solar and nuclear fusion. Finally, extraterrestrial contact at around the year 3000 as we move out into the universe.

BART: I think some safe predictions are that English will be the dominant language of the solar system, if not beyond. We’ll have conquered death, solving the engineering problem that it really is. So if you die it will be by your choice–or the choice of the government that runs your computer. You [or they] can flip your switch on or off at will. And, as I said, I think we’ll have achieved some form of Heaven in a chip. Whether you’ll want to stay there is another matter.

EDWARD: Back to what I said in the beginning. No men; women sitting around bitching and taking designer drugs.

GREG: I think the dominant trend is going to be diversity. I don’t know what shape humans will take, but a transformation will occur. And when those future beings look back, they will see that the very basics of their lives are being laid down right now–by genetic engineering, artificial intelligence, and space travel.

BRUCE: Communications. The essence of individuals will be their ability to communicate with an enormous array of entities, many of which we can hardly imagine.

ROBERT: CONCLUDING COMMENT

If in the year 1000 the smartest people had predicted what the world would be like in the year 2000, it would have seemed a joke. We think we’re much smarter today–more in tune with the universal music of truth. So we now imagine the year 3000. Life spans of hundreds of years, with homegrown body parts and chips for brains. Abundant, clean energy from the sun and a safe, inexhaustible source of power in nuclear fusion. Computers doing all the work–unobtrusively, thank you. Colonies on a greened Mars or perhaps on planets of nearby stars, with intergalactic ships heading out into the great beyond. Who knows? But what I find more fascinating is that we humans seem compelled to imagine the far future. We are beings who comprehend time and its flowing passage, who project our mind’s eye and envision epochs long before our births and long after our deaths. That such a time-sensitive, self-aware being exists at all somehow makes me wonder about the far future. Could something unexpected, really unexpected, occur before the year 3000? I’d give it–just a hunch here–a three out of ten: thirty percent. I guess I won’t be doing this show, but that would be expected, wouldn’t it? One wonders whether Y3K will find humanity any closer to truth.

Editor’s Translations:

EDWARD: In 3000 perhaps the biggest difference from today is that there will be no more men. Females can have female children, without any need for men. In about ten years, we’ll find the hormone cocktail that women can take to have female children. There’ll be no need for men at all.
[在3000 或許跟今天最大的區別是已經沒有男人了。 女人能生女孩子, 不需要男人。 在大約十年內, 我們將發現婦女能採取有女性孩子的激素雞尾酒。 將來根本需要男人。]

ROBERT: Will the world be a better place?
[世界將是一個更好的地方嗎?]

EDWARD: Oh, yes. And this show will be archival material. Women will take it out of the video store and say, “Look, those are men; aren’t they funny?”
[噢, 是。 並且這個節幕將來就會變成檔案材料。 婦女將來會從錄影商店借出來說, “妳看, 那些就是男人; 他們是不是很滑稽?”]

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: Can We Imagine the Far Future–Year 3000?
Illustration(s): Edward de Bono, Bart Kosko, Graham Molitor, Bruce Murray, Gregory Stock, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Source: http://www.closertotruth.com/topics/technologysociety/201/201transcript.html
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

Can We See the Near Future–Year 2025? (我們能不能預測不久的未來 — 2025 A.D.?)

Can We See the Near Future–Year 2025? (我們能不能預測不久的未來 — 2025 A.D.?)
[創意組織 ]
(2003/08/12)

Can We See the Near Future–Year 2025?

TWENTY-FIVE years ago, there was an empire called the Soviet Union, and there were no kids surfing the Internet. Twenty-five years from now, what familiar institutions will be extinct and what unexpected innovations will have emerged? From artificial intelligence to genetic engineering, will our burgeoning technology make our lives happy or gloomy, content or confused? Will there be more political freedom in the world, or less? Will there be more cultural and ethnic fragmentation, or a world more integrated and unified? What about competitiveness, confrontations, conflicts, wars? What breakthroughs lie ahead? What surprises are in store? In great part, we could not have successfully predicted the changes of the past twenty-five years. Can we do any better with the next twenty-five? We recruited five forecasters to be our time-travelers to the year 2025. Let’s see how they do.

PARTICIPANTS

Edward de Bono, the author of Lateral Thinking: Creativity Step by Step, teaches creativity in schools and corporations around the world. Edward hopes that new educational techniques will bring about a better future.

Dr. Edward Feigenbaum, a pioneer in expert systems, is co-scientific director of the Knowledge Systems Laboratory at Stanford University. His 1963 book Computers and Thought helped launch artificial intelligence. Ed believes that machines will become our valuable assistants.

Graham T.T. Molitor, author of numerous articles and books on the future, is vice president of the World Future Society. Graham sees, along with an enormous increase in the global population, an increase in knowledge and prosperity over the next twenty-five years.

Dr. Bruce Murray, a professor of planetary science and geology at Caltech, is a co-founder, with the late Carl Sagan, of the Planetary Society, which fosters public interest in space exploration. Bruce is concerned about unprecedented global stress and seeks sustainability and world governance.

Dr. Bart Kosko, professor of electrical engineering at USC, is the author of the science-fiction novel Nanotime. Bart’s not-all-rosy vision of the future is stamped by computer chips outpowering and outthinking the human brain.

ROBERT: Bruce, you’ve stated that the greatest drama in man-the-toolmaker’s unprecedented evolution awaits us in this new century. Haven’t people always said that the time they live in is the most important? Why are we so special?

BRUCE: We’re special because these circumstances will never happen again. I’m sure it may have seemed that way in the past. But never have we as a species been surging so out of control. There have been times when whole civilizations have been eliminated, there have been droughts and other natural disasters, but never has the globe as a whole been so stressed. There are objective indicators. Never has the globe held anywhere near as many people as it does now. Never has the globe had this tremendous technological progress you just mentioned. There is an unprecedented use of fuel, and the like. If you were an alien looking down at planet Earth now, you could detect our presence simply from the gases in the atmosphere, from the changes in plant life that you could see from space at great distances. It’s this combination [of technological progress and overpopulation] that makes the present time unprecedented–and also unsustainable: the planet can’t go on like this–and therefore we can’t predict the future.

ROBERT: Bart, Nanotime is a World War III futuristic thriller, in which–thirty years from now–computer chips begin to replace brains. How seriously should we take your fiction?

BART: I’d take it with a big fuzzy grain of salt. But the concept behind Nanotime will come to pass–in the next twenty-five or thirty years, the power of computer chips will exceed that of the human brain. Whether we can get chips and brains to interact is the question we’ll be exploring within the next decade.

ROBERT: Ed, what is artificial intelligence, and what will it be doing for us, or to us, in the next twenty-five years?

ED FEIGENBAUM: We’re going to see artificial intelligence techniques ride on top of other waves that are pushing the information revolution along–the wave of communications, the wave of increased computer power, and especially the wave of connectedness. The connectedness generates a great deal of what you might call information clutter in our world–clutter that artificial intelligence techniques may help to sort out for us.

ROBERT: Graham, you’re a leading futurist, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of the Future. What are the major trends of the next twenty-five years?

GRAHAM: There are so many that it’s hard to choose among them. Population is critical. Auguste Comte, the great sociologist, stated that demography is destiny. Truly it is. In the time span we’re looking at, there will be a tremendous increase in population. I think the global population ultimately will go as high as sixty billion. The density in this country is about seventy-five people per square mile. In other countries, it’s almost a thousand, [but] there’s plenty of room for lots more people.

ROBERT: Edward, as a pioneer in creative thinking, can you help us do some creative thinking here? What’s the role of education in the next twenty-five years?

EDWARD DE BONO: I want you to imagine a ship on the high seas, in which the engines keep stopping, the lights keep flickering, the crew’s very demoralized, and things aren’t good. Then we helicopter in a new captain, new senior officers, we fix the engines, the lights don’t flicker, morale goes up, but the ship’s still going in the wrong direction–and that’s education. Education in most countries is really a disgrace. Three key things need to be taught in society. The first is how value is created; this is not taught now. The second is the relevant skills; these are not taught. The third is basic thinking; again, not taught. Education is helplessly out of date.

ROBERT: Bruce, let’s get back to the planet. You talk about global sustainability, generational equity, intervention versus market forces. Unify these thoughts for us. What’s the ultimate outcome?

BRUCE: The primary impact will be on governance, not government–we’ll see a decline in the power of central governments. That’s already happened in China, it’s happened in Japan, it’s happened in Western Europe.

ROBERT: What are the underlying causes?

BRUCE: Increased communications is a big one. And as this decentralization is going on, global challenges are rising: we have to keep order, we have to provide populations with food and supplies. So we have to invent, for the first time, a system of planetary governance that doesn’t depend upon an imperial boss or a ruling party or something like that. That’s the big challenge.

ROBERT: Is that a pipe dream?

BRUCE: No. It will happen, well or poorly.

BART: Bruce, how can you argue that the power of central governments has decreased? The IMF–the International Monetary Fund–keeps statistics on how much [the governments of] the major countries spend of their gross domestic product. In the 1870s, it was about twelve to fifteen percent, and it’s risen nonstop, so that at the end of the twentieth century the average large government is spending about forty-seven percent of its country’s GDP. There’s been no decline whatsoever. Governments seem only to grow over time.

BRUCE: I guess we’re looking at different measures. Certainly you can’t argue that the Soviet Union hasn’t been decentralized.

ROBERT: What about the surge in nationalism, ethnicity, commercial enterprises, social fragmentation?

BRUCE: Right. The fact is that the world is a more diverse place than it was before 1989. In China, economic reform has diversified the society. In Japan, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party collapsed and has not been replaced by a working majority. In Western Europe, there have been minority governments continually for about the last ten years.

ROBERT: If we agree that decentralization is being energized through political processes, the rise of nationalism, and the Internet, what’s the end result?

BRUCE: There’s a natural tension between a retreat into hatred–a narrowness that shows up in religion and in politics–and a global vision that’s sweeping the planet, with people really identifying with people in other parts of the world. These are the two competing pressures.

EDWARD DE BONO: I would say they’re not pressures. They’re two opposite directions that can coexist. You see the fractionalization of geographic segments into smaller regions, cities, and so on. At the same time, you see unification, like the European Union. Both trends are happening simultaneously. I think nationalistic hatred is a phase that will pass; it won’t be a major factor in the future.

ROBERT: You don’t think that’s Pollyanna-ish?

EDWARD DE BONO: No. What’s happening now is that people in most countries–most communities, like the business community–are working toward similar goals, have the same values. Nationalism and ethnic conflicts are remnants, the dying embers of our traditional hatreds.

ROBERT: Bart, what are some myths of forecasting the future?

BART: One myth is the assumption of military stability. It’s now becoming cheaper to attack than to defend. I call this a smart war, and it’s something new in military history. It always used to cost a lot more to attack; the Greeks had to launch a thousand ships to attack Troy, whereas the Afghan rebels could take a relatively inexpensive stinger missile and shoot down a multimillion-dollar Soviet helicopter. Now as cruise missiles get smarter, as we shift into information warfare, it’s easier to attack and it costs less. The average real cost of a cruise missile today is somewhere around a hundred thousand dollars, and as chip densities continue to shrink and other economic efficiencies increase, that real cost will fall in a decade or so to about ten thousand dollars–less than the price of a car. How do you defend against cheap cruise missiles? Just as it’s very difficult to find a hidden land mine; land mines cost about three dollars to make and about three hundred dollars to find. All this, I think, will be extremely destabilizing. Maybe there won’t be big wars, but one country could decide that it’s easier and cheaper to launch a smart attack than to resort to diplomacy.

ROBERT: A multiplicity of countries divided by ethnicity feeds further destabilization.

ED FEIGENBAUM: At the end of the twentieth century, there were some hundred and eighty-five member countries in the United Nations. I would think, as countries continue to divide along ethnic and language lines, that by 2025 there will be more like four hundred.

ROBERT: Other estimates of the number of nations in twenty-five years?

EDWARD DE BONO: It depends whether you call them nations or semi-autonomous regions.

ROBERT: The defining characteristic is that they’re independently governed.

EDWARD DE BONO: I would say about five hundred.

ROBERT: Or that could mobilize their own armies–I think that’s the best definition.

EDWARD DE BONO: No, I wouldn’t say that. Five hundred able to be pretty independent, OK–but not necessarily to mobilize their own armies.

ROBERT: How many nations will be able to mobilize their own armies?

EDWARD DE BONO: Much lower–because why would people want their own armies?

ROBERT: Why is sadly irrelevant; they just do.

GRAHAM: You have to keep in mind the size of the countries we’re talking about. Some of these nation states have only forty thousand people. Some of them have territories smaller than the neighborhood I live in. Certainly more countries will be coming. After the close of World War II, there were something like seventy-eight nations. Now there are about two hundred and twenty, depending on who’s counting, and it will grow.

BART: Some countries are artificial–they contain different peoples, languages, religions–and they could fragment. Some have borders drawn by colonial powers, particularly the British, hundreds of years ago. The Indian subcontinent. Parts of Africa. Perhaps even China.

ROBERT: Why are wars not included in most studies of the future?

ED FEIGENBAUM: Because futurists are just too optimistic. They’re too hopeful; they adopt a positive vision in hopes that that will make it more likely to happen.

BRUCE: And I think it’s a big mistake. The reason you study alternative scenarios is not to predict–because you can’t predict–but to look at the range of outcomes so that you then can get insight into what’s likely to be the big driver. And this range of outcomes includes some very messy, unpleasant kinds of worlds ahead of us, even within twenty-five years. Mexico could be out of control; that would be serious for us. The Balkans could lead to a larger conflict.

ROBERT: There are many opportunities for unpleasant surprise.

EDWARD DE BONO: But advancing age is on our side. A lot of people running these countries have grown up in time of war, and their thinking remains that way, but the next generation won’t necessarily think that way.

ROBERT: That’s been an unfulfilled hope for generations. Let’s shift gears. Ed, how do you see artificial intelligence in twenty-five years? Take two fields with which you’ve dealt, business and medicine.

ED FEIGENBAUM: I just want to start out by saying that I disagree a bit with your opening statement about how difficult it has been to predict the future. The general rule of thumb is, if you want to know what will be out there twenty-five years from now, look in the research laboratories of major universities and corporations. The best example is Moore’s Law [that computing capacity doubles every eighteen months]; we’ve had a curve to follow ever since the late 1960s and early 1970s. The bang for the buck in a microchip doubles approximately every eighteen months. Sometimes the rate accelerates to fourteen months; sometimes it slips to twenty-four months.

ROBERT: What’s another example?

ED FEIGENBAUM: In the mid-1940s, Roosevelt’s science advisor Vannevar Bush published an article in the Atlantic Monthly about a machine he called a memex, which has a great deal in common with today’s personal computers. And there’s [pioneer computer scientist] J. C. R. Licklider’s wonderful 1962 essay [with W. Clark, “On-line Man-Computer Communication”] about a so-called “galactic network”–his tongue-in-cheek term for what we now call the Internet. So we can indeed make predictions.

ROBERT: So predict. We’re putting you on the spot.

ED FEIGENBAUM: Right. In the artificial intelligence world, I think you’ll see the use of large knowledge bases to [help us negotiate] the World Wide Web. We’re deluged with data on the Web. When we request something from a search engine, a ton of stuff comes out that we don’t want. Now, if we could only inject some knowledge of the real world into that search engine, it could answer the query that we’re really asking–which is for just a small number of relevant items. This will be the major contribution of artificial intelligence to the business world. It will make the use of the World Wide Web for electronic commerce and for individual interaction a great deal more plausible, pleasurable, tangible and accessible for the average person. In medicine, you have a different story. There you’re looking at expert systems, and the question is, Can we gain medical knowledge from practicing experts any faster than we’ve done in the past? That’s been the chief bottleneck in creating expert systems: How do we model human expertise? And here the prediction would be that we’re going to see automatic methods to do that. Just as the more knowledge you have the better you can perform a task, similarly the more knowledge you have the easier it is to acquire more. We can use this acceleration effect in learning [software]–for example, programs to read the medical literature and extract knowledge that can be useful in these artificial-intelligence reasoning programs.

ROBERT: Graham, as you forecast world economics, do you see the robust, steady climb continuing?

GRAHAM: There are several things to consider here. One is the extraordinary change since the 1920s, when only several hundred thousand people were in the stock market. In 1999, forty-three percent of Americans were in the market, either directly or indirectly through mutual funds, pension plans, and retirement accounts. The amount of equity that average householders have in the stock market exceeds the value of the equity of their homes and real property. So what’s driving this? Well, it’s the baby-boom generation, which has about another nine years to work its way through its most prolific spending years–upscale houses, second homes, luxury cars, exotic vacations, the furnishings and collectibles, and all that goes with it. The stock market will probably double or triple within the twenty-five-year time frame.

BART: What happens when the baby boomers cash out?

GRAHAM: When they cash out, there’s a fantastic series of things that come along. Think about this: the mega-expenditures of the average individual in a lifetime have increased radically. It’s expensive to have children these days: it costs about $179,000 to $359,000 to raise a child through age seventeen. Then every kid has to have further schooling, because, as Edward [De Bono] says, educational is pivotal.

EDWARD DE BONO: Is it pivotal or pitiful?

GRAHAM: It’s pitiful, but it’s also pivotal–both. And that education costs $50,000 to $250,000. Then don’t forget that baby boomers are darn sure to give their kids lavish weddings; that’s another $10,000 to $100,000.

BRUCE: But you’re not talking about everybody in the United States. You’re talking about an important group with a lot of money. But there are other groups that aren’t so privileged.

GRAHAM: Forty-three percent of the population are in the market.

BRUCE: How do you deal with the poorly educated?

ROBERT: Doesn’t the increasing disparity between rich and poor provoke greater fragmentation in society?

BRUCE: It’s happening. It’s a fact–society is becoming more fragmented.

ROBERT: And that generates serious social pressures.

BRUCE: Right, and in the long run it makes the system unstable, unless you figure out a way–

GRAHAM: I totally disagree. You know, a rising tide raises all boats. The growth trajectory for linchpin industries is in place, and it will produce a very powerful economy.

BART: In a few years, the disposable income of workers could buy all the stock on all the exchanges.

EDWARD DE BONO: I think in twenty-five years the stock market will just be dead. It’s a giant Ponzi scheme.

GRAHAM: That’s Social Security you’re talking about.

BART: The stock market grows because earnings grow.

BRUCE: What happens when this show is seen in the houses of many Mexican Americans, African Americans, immigrants, other people who are not part of this economic boom. They’ll say, “What are we hearing? These guys must be from another planet.” To ignore the fact that a significant fraction of the people in this country are not sharing in our material success or getting the tools to be effective in the future is delusional.

ROBERT: The accumulation of wealth can exacerbate divisions in society.

BRUCE: Right, and remember, we’re in a particularly favorable time. Those tensions are not nearly as manifest as they’ve been at other times and will be again in the future.

EDWARD DE BONO: That’s why education is so important. If it weren’t for education, these people would just be playing catch-up. But if we can really improve education–which we can–they’ll become much more productive and much less dependent. Without a change in education, though, we’re just going to repeat the steps that got us where we are today.

ROBERT: Let’s go into space. Bruce, for decades you’ve been a leader in the American space program. What can we look forward to in the next twenty-five years? Any practical applications?

BRUCE: There’ll be a series of utilitarian benefits–there already are. Satellite communications are so common that people take it for granted. What’s becoming equally embedded in our social infrastructure is the fixing of locations by GPS–global positioning satellites. It’s become another utility.

BART: It’s something, by the way, that you could jam during a war.

BRUCE: But it’s commercial.

BART: No, the military has to deal with them.

GRAHAM: Even more of a problem when you have thousands of satellites.

BRUCE: Well, you can also set off nuclear bombs [in the atmosphere] and knock out a country’s electrical power systems–but that hasn’t happened.

BART: Information warfare will undermine these communication structures.

BRUCE: If you go to war, it doesn’t make a lot of difference whether you do it on the earth or above the earth. But the real issue about space is not utilitarian; the issue is what it can do for our spirit, not so much for our bodies–how space can inspire humanity.

ROBERT: And what space exploration says about us as human beings. There’s no way you can justify going to Mars on an economic basis.

BRUCE: That’s right. And obviously one answer to that is pure science. Another is earth science. The more we learn about planetary environments, just as we did on earth, the more it helps us overall. And that’s certainly true with Mars or Venus or other places.

ROBERT: Do you send carbon [humans] or silicon [robots]?

BRUCE: We’ve been sending silicon, because that’s all we can send. I’m not going to answer your question about twenty-five years from now. You know that I’m advocating and trying to make it possible for humans to go to Mars, somewhat the way we first went to Antarctica. But there may be another trajectory. Just as Moore’s Law operates in terms of computation speed, it also operates with respect to communications. Communications is an enterprise that’s doubling in power about every two and a half years. And it’s not the result of government efforts; it’s going to happen regardless. So whereas human beings stay about the same–our physical bodies are no better than those of the early polar explorers–there will be more and more capacity on the robotics side. And a fusion between humans and far more sophisticated machines is going to emerge that will be unlike anything we’ve ever seen before, and that’s the way most of us are going to see the solar system.

ROBERT: Will that help our collective spirit?

BRUCE: So far it has. I’m the president of the Planetary Society [planetary.org], and we survive at the pleasure of a hundred thousand people who send in their dues every year. We don’t have any big aerospace companies backing us, and we don’t have any government grants. We survive because we represent hope. We represent a link to the possibilities of the future. We will continue, provided that our space systems bring back new stuff–stuff that’s interesting and, most important, interactive. The new phase of space exploration will see humans interacting with robotic systems operating on Mars and other such places.

EDWARD DE BONO: What space illustrates to me is our ability to deal with linear, predictable systems and our inability to deal with nonlinear loop systems. The more we put our efforts into, say, bigger rockets, better robots, and so on, the more we move away from and neglect the more complex social systems, behaviors, and interactions–poverty and crime, and so on. If we put as much intellectual and financial resources into those areas as we do into the linear systems, we’d make a better world.

BRUCE: You should feel good; we’re doing exactly that. We’re reducing both the absolute and the relative expenditures on space exploration in this country and in every other country.

BART: And spending more on prisons than ever before.

BRUCE: We’re also spending more on consumption, on commercial products.

ROBERT: This contrast marks our human heritage, reaching for the stars while living in the dirt. As Bruce [Murray] said, space exploration feeds our spirit more than our body.

BRUCE: It’s an old argument. It’s the argument of the sixties. Societies have made their judgments; part of it is decentralization of services, and there’s less going into space.

EDWARD DE BONO: You’re misunderstanding what I said. I didn’t say that there should be less going into space; I said that we should put more into other areas.

BRUCE: Look, the gross national product is doubling every ten years; the space fraction is going down; obviously, resources are going somewhere else.

EDWARD DE BONO: They’re not. That’s my whole point. If you’re spending less on meat, it doesn’t mean that you’re spending more on milk.

BRUCE: But you’re spending on something.

EDWARD DE BONO: If society would give the same priorities to poverty and crime and education as we gave to space, it would make a huge difference.

ROBERT: I think we’re all just a bunch of narrow-minded technocrats. Where are the humanists, the theologians, the philosophers who can guide us through the next twenty-five years?

ED FEIGENBAUM: Hey, I’d like to defend the technocrats. I’m a technocrat myself. Take the example of life extension. Average life span increased little by little, until [Scottish bacteriologist Alexander] Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928, until the advent of sulfa drugs, and then there was a dramatic increase in life span from about fifty-nine years to about seventy-two years.

ROBERT: That’s a real discontinuity.

ED FEIGENBAUM: We need to look for such discontinuities during the next twenty-five years.

EDWARD DE BONO: Living longer doesn’t necessarily improve quality of life. If one old lady living in a small town gets mugged, the quality of life for every old lady in that town is seriously impaired. Being free from the fear of crime–that is quality of life. Just achieving technological extensions of life is like being bombarded with useless information by E-mail. That’s not quality of life.

BRUCE: Let me jump in, because I think the issue of being technocrats is justified. I feel uneasy about this, but the problem is that the people who specialize in understanding social behavior or history tend to be backward-looking. Let me tell you what I think is the most important diagram of our times. It plots world population from 1750 to 2150, with the explosion starting in the early twentieth century. And I argue that this geometric increase in people is transforming not just the surface of the earth but also–and partly due to technological change–the way we think.

ROBERT: Creating a kind of global consciousness?

BRUCE: Right. We’re immersed in a new kind of culture. We’re talking here as though we’re external from earth, speculating what life will be like “over there” in 2025. The most radical change going on is not the increase in human life span but the changing cultural and social attitudes.

ROBERT: What’s happening to privacy amid all this change?

BART: It’s diminishing.

ROBERT: Despite all the clever gadgets cluttering up our kitchens and cars and so forth, doesn’t the erosion of privacy depress our quality of life?

BART: We leave ever more footprints to be picked up by digital devices manned by friendly and unfriendly sources alike. The government has twelve underground acres of computers at Fort Meade just to crack certain kinds of codes that people don’t even know about. We’ve taken it for granted that we can have a conversation in a supermarket, or on a street corner, that won’t be recorded. Soon we won’t be able to do that.

EDWARD DE BONO: Why do you care who’s listening, unless you’ve got something to hide? Why does it matter?

BART: Let’s put a camcorder into your living room.

ED FEIGENBAUM: If privacy mattered, people would turn on the encryption feature of their browsers when they send E-mails–and nobody does. How many of you have ever sent or received an encrypted E-mail?

BART: I have, and I think more people will, as they learn how to do it.

ROBERT: We don’t appreciate how much personal information is being gathered and used already; people aren’t sufficiently sensitive to that yet.

BRUCE: Look, instead of saying how we feel about privacy, we ought to agree that it’s important to our society and that we have a body of law concerned with it. Other societies don’t. Privacy is one of our culturally dependent mores, and it’s probably going to be much more difficult to maintain. The Western tradition of privacy is not a free good, and it is certainly at risk.

ROBERT: But is privacy a fundamental human right?

EDWARD DE BONO: Not at all.

BRUCE: No, it’s not fundamental in the sense that there are many societies that don’t [privilege privacy].

ROBERT: Would you give up privacy in exchange for more gadgetry, more technological comforts?

BRUCE: Not me, but others might.

ROBERT: Twenty-five years from now, looking back, what’s the biggest surprise unforeseen today?

BRUCE: The biggest surprise will be something we probably can’t appreciate now, because our descendants will have changed in a way we wouldn’t recognize. Just as my grandfather and I are separated forever by cultural and psychological differences.

EDWARD DE BONO: I’ll be wearing face jewelry. [Note: In fact, Edward did wear face jewelry on this one television show–a large silver safety pin that was attached prominently to his nose. None of us knew quite what to say or do, which, no doubt, was Edward’s point.]

GRAHAM: I think what will come to pass are extraordinary advances in human intellect and understanding, with information doubling every five years and knowledge every two and a half years–six to eighteen months in some disciplines–and the ability to acquire knowledge and use it efficiently and effectively for the cause and the course of humanity.

ED FEIGENBAUM: The biggest surprises are going to be biological: on the positive side, gene therapy to cure a range of human diseases, and on the negative side, a very scary future for biological warfare.

BART: I agree; we’ll soon be able to manipulate our genes, at least to some degree. There will be artificial eyes. At the social level–on the small level, we’ll have mail on Sunday–and drugs will be legalized, so this massive transfer of wealth from taxpayers to drug dealers will be gone.

ROBERT: CONCLUDING COMMENT

EINSTEIN once said, “I never think of the future. It comes soon enough.” One prediction I’m sure about: the future is coming quicker and sooner. Does the year 2025 seem forever in the future? For many of us, the year 1975 seems hardly in the past. The safest way to forecast the future is a standard extrapolation, which means taking what has happened and projecting it forward at the same rate to predict what will happen. For example, since the world is becoming tightly wired, if economic prosperity continues, educational equality will ultimately come to all nations and peoples. But in 1943, Thomas Watson, the chairman of IBM, said that the world market for computers would be “maybe five.” So much for extrapolations. The theory behind the study of the future is that if you plan for the future–even if your plans are wrong–you get two benefits: you can more likely influence the flow of events and you can more quickly react to surprise. Yet here’s a hunch; I give it, say, one in twenty that something unexpected–really unexpected–will have occurred by the year 2025. As for me, I hope still to be doing this show, with less hair and more makeup, amused at how naive I was twenty-five years before. And finally, after all that time, I may find myself closer to truth.

Editor’s Translations:

BRUCE: The fact is that the world is a more diverse place than it was before 1989. In China, economic reform has diversified the society.
[事實是, 世界比在1989年之前是一更多元化的地方。 在中國大陸, 經濟改革已經把社會多元化。]

ROBERT: What’s the end result?
[最後結果呢?]

BRUCE: There’s a natural tension between a retreat into hatred–a narrowness that shows up in religion and in politics–and a global vision that’s sweeping the planet, with people really identifying with people in other parts of the world.
[狹隘性宗教和政治仇視別人的心態跟認同全世界人類的宏觀思維在拔河。]

EDWARD DE BONO: I think nationalistic hatred is a phase that will pass; it won’t be a major factor in the future.
[我認為國家主義仇恨是一個會過去的階段; 將來不會是一個主要因素。]

ROBERT: You don’t think that’s Pollyanna-ish?
[您不認為這過度天真樂觀? ]

EDWARD DE BONO: No. What’s happening now is that people in most countries–most communities, like the business community–are working toward similar goals, have the same values. Nationalism and ethnic conflicts are remnants, the dying embers of our traditional hatreds.
[不。 在多數國家, 多數社區裡的人士, 像工商業界, 都在往同樣的目標努力, 都有同樣的價值觀。 國家主義和種族衝突不過是殘餘, 是我們傳統仇恨垂危的炭燼。]

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: Can We See the Near Future–Year 2025?
Illustration(s): Edward de Bono, Edward Feigenbaum, Graham Molitor, Bruce Murray, Bart Kosko, Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Author(s): Dr. Robert Lawrence Kuhn
Affiliation: CLOSER TO TRUTH (CTT)
Source: http://www.closertotruth.com/topics/technologysociety/106/106transcript.html
Publication Date: N/A
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect