Does the Mind Create Reality or Discover It?
Philosophical questions about “reality” are fun if not practical. But we need a concept of reality in order to function practically.
“Get real!” we challenge one another. Most of us believe in external reality. The “correspondence theory” of truth posits that our sensations, however flawed, correspond with what’s really out there in the external world, even if the signals go through multiple layers of processing and translation from source to brain.
Consider what mathematics represents. Is it a fictional, self-consistent system in the mind, or does it correspond to the universe? That question was asked by four neuroscientists at UC San Diego’s Kavli Institute for the Brain and Mind (see NewsWise press release). The question of whether humans create mathematics or discover it is debated in the article. Max Tegmark takes the position that the universe is inherently mathematical:
“[N]ature is clearly giving us hints that the universe is mathematical,” says Tegmark, professor of physics at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and member of MIT’s Kavli Institute for Astrophysics and Space Research. According to Tegmark, many mathematicians even feel that they don’t invent mathematical structures, “they just discover them—that these mathematical structures exist independently of humans.”
Tegmark also points out this isn’t just interesting as an academic idea; if correct, then mathematics has a special role for advancing human knowledge.
“If math is inherent out in the universe, then mathematics can give us hints for solving future problems in physics,” Tegmark says. “If we really believe that nature is fundamentally mathematical, then we should look for mathematical patterns and regularities when we come across phenomena that we don’t understand. This problem-solving approach has been at the heart of physics’ success for the past 500 years.“
Some philosophers will complain that Tegmark’s response is question-begging, but then one could reply to the philosophers, asking whether their own responses are real.
Tanya Lewis, in an article on Live Science “Reality Check: Is Our Universe Real?” scares readers into questioning the obvious: “Perhaps our human senses are deceiving us — maybe existence is an illusion, and reality isn’t real.” The problem with that view is that it is self-refuting. It leads to solipsism, the idea that only oneself exists. But even that thought might be an illusion. In any case, who is Lewis talking to if that is the case, but herself? “What humans perceive as reality may be no more than an illusion,” she concludes. “But in the end, maybe that doesn’t matter.”
It surely does matter, though, if one wants to conduct science. Belief in external reality and the validity of the laws of logic are preconditions of science, without which a scientist is wasting his or her time. One cannot “understand” something that doesn’t exist.
The major science journals, however, continue to promote materialist views that equate the mind with the brain. In Nature, for instance, Chris Frith gave good press to Patricia Churchland’s new book promoting monism, Touching a Nerve: The Self as Brain. Recently the National Academy of Sciences held a Sackler Colloquium called “In the Light of Evolution VII: The Human Mental Machinery.” It included John Searle’s views on Theory of Mind and other papers assuming the mind evolved by Darwinian processes of selection. No one seemed to ask, if Darwinism is true, how they could know natural selection produced the mind, including its thoughts that the mind evolved.
Other questions pop up from the proposition that the mind is essentially material.
- What is consciousness? A recent paper in PNAS assumes human consciousness evolved and differs only in degree, not in kind, from that of the animals. Materialists have a burden to prove their consciousness accords with reality.
- What is scientific evidence, and how can we trust it? A PhysOrg article assumes scientists can be objective and unbiased – loaded words for an evolved monkey’s brain.
- What is reason, compared with madness, and who decides who is mad? (see Science book review about psychiatry’s controversial diagnostic manual DSM-5). Materialists must convince skeptics that they are the sane ones, yet it would be insane to consider reason or logic as evolvable entities.
- What is justice and fairness? Another PNAS paper considers those moral qualities nothing more than game theory applied to animal behavior. Honesty, though, is another precondition for science. The authors must convince their readers they are interested in the truth, not just playing games.
Materialistic explanations undermine their own assumptions by borrowing the correspondence theory of truth without justifying it, and acting as if dualism is true, even as they deny it. The brain is so complex, as an article in Nature about a new “mapping the brain” project attests, it seems the height of brashness to assume it excretes “mind” as a substance, a kind of truth serum. We use the mind to approach the brain, but whether the brain (as a physical object) can approach the mind – an entity in the realm of concepts – is a deeper conundrum the materialist cannot escape.
Only the Biblical worldview allows a consistent framework for doing science. One must believe that God, who cannot lie, created a logical, mathematically-structured reality, and gave His creatures the capacity to explore and understand it. Otherwise, if it is the result of a blind evolutionary process, how can one trust the sensations of a physical brain that emerged only for survival? This conundrum troubled Darwin (5/09/13) and is amply discussed in the Discovery Institute Book The Magician’s Twin: C. S. Lewis on Science, Scientism and Society, a good read. With Bible in hand, the world becomes comprehensible. Math works. Reality is approachable through our intelligently-designed senses that were given to us for the purpose of knowing truth. Though we may not discover truth exhaustively, we can approach it authentically.