Extra Dimensions, Materialism and Consciousness: Science vs. Woo

A week or so ago, I participated in a super saturated Deepak Chopra-esque woo discussion on Facebook. It astounds me that a participating member of a technologically advanced society can confidentially assert the statements I’ve captured below. I don’t know how we can dispel so many of these misconceptions but I do know that they are widespread and often held by intelligent people. I can only try to wash away some of the ignorance one Facebook discussion at a time.

wooofthegaps

For the rest of this article, I will sum up the poster’s arguments and discuss each.

Point One: Other dimensions exist and they make up the spiritual world.

This person sees the extra dimensions (in addition to the three we are familiar with: two spatial and one temporal) that many theories in physics postulate in an attempt to unify the four fundamental forces (gravitational, electromagnetic, strong nuclear and weak nuclear) as haunted by spirits. While there are promising mathematical models that suggest the existence of extra dimensions, scientists have so far not found evidence to confirm these models (though they’re working on it). If this poster could prove the existence of extra dimensions, he’d win a nobel prize and if he could prove that those dimensions were populated by spirits, he’d force the rewriting of scientific laws. (the Second Law of Thermodynamics comes to mind).

Point Two: Materialism is false.

If you believe that spirits exist and you are philosophically consistent, you reject materialism because materialism denies the existence of such things. I’ve spoken about how humans are not ghosts in the machine because there is no supporting evidence that stands up to scientific scrutiny. Science tells us, we are our brains or as neuroscientist Christof Koch likes to put it, “no brain, never mind!”. The brain endows us with consciousness, gives us our personality, our predispositions, our cognitive abilities, our level of empathy and so on. When our brains die, the electrical impulses and matter than generates them dies too and we exist no more.

The poster also asserts that science limits its queries to the so-called “five senses”; this is patently false. For example, science has led to the development of technology that uses electro-magnetic radiation, most of it imperceptible to human senses. We cannot see, hear, smell, taste or feel many radio waves, yet thanks to the science that discovered them, we use them to communicate, learn new things about the cosmosdiagnose medical conditionscook our meals and much more.

Point Three: The Hard Problem of Consciousness is unsolvable.

The Hard Problem of Consciousness is no more unsolvable than the problem of how sicknesses are spread (The Germ Theory of Disease) or how traits are passed from one generation to the next (heredity by DNA). Imagine that our ancestors had taken this writer’s advice to “stay agnostic”, instead of striving to truly understand the nature of things? Where would our civilization be today if those before us had accepted claims that bad air and evil spirits make us sick or that god created humans and all living things in their current forms?

Lastly, when the poster calls the scientific quest to understand consciousness a “dogma that has limited evidence”, he shows that he fundamentally misunderstands science. Dogma, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is a belief or set of beliefs that is accepted by the members of a group without being questioned or doubted. In contrast, science sees nothing as sacred; as Richard Feynman famously said,

It does not make any difference how beautiful your guess is. It does not make any difference how smart you are, who made the guess, or what his name is – if it disagrees with experiment it is wrong. That is all there is to it.

Because science has not yet solved the The Hard Problem it does not mean that we get to stuff those gaps in our knowledge with spirits or any other fantastical beings and as Christof Koch knows, a theory for “how and why the physical world is capable of generating phenomenal experience…can’t just be vague, airy-fairy, but must be concrete, quantifiable, and testable“- (Koch p. 115) and such theories do exist.

I think this poster believes he is open-minded while those that see science as the best way to ascertain truth, are close-minded because we do not accept mere assertions as truth (the plural of anecdote is not data). This is where it is important to remember to keep an open mind but not so open that your brains fall out.


Works Cited

Koch, Christof. Consciousness confessions of a romantic reductionist. Cambridge, Massachsetts: MIT Press, 2012. Print.

6 thoughts on “Extra Dimensions, Materialism and Consciousness: Science vs. Woo

  1. Chopra is talking out of his ass…. But this statement is not supported by facts:
    “The Hard Problem of Consciousness is no more unsolvable than the problem of how sicknesses are spread”

    There may in fact be unsolvable problems based on human/conceptual/physical limits.

    How the universe began is another example of something science might never have an answer for. Doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, of course.

    • I’m not convinced consciousness is something we’ll never solve – I just read Christof Koch’s book: Consciousness: Confessions of a Romantic Reductionist. He has devoted his life to the study of consciousness and his work holds promise.

      The before the big-bang might be hard to know with high confidence and multiverses may also be a tough one because of their nature of being causally disconnected. Consciousness doesn’t have such barriers.

      • I didn’t say it was unsolvable, I said we don’t know if it is. Optimism is not facts. Nor does science really even scratch the surface of what it is. Neuroscience is still in the cave painting phase. We still need a Newton to describe what the brain does and then an Einstein to give it rudimentary context.

        So we don’t really know about barriers. It would seem, from a purely materialist perspective to be a function of the brain, but the brain is the most complex system we know, and we still have trouble predicting simple weather systems.

        Chopra is a fool, but knowing not to build a house on a flood plain is not the same as knowing how to build a skyscraper.

        • Well yes, however I think as a problem, it was just as large as those examples I gave: DNA for heredity seemed insurmountable in early days and figuring out what made people sick was stumped by woo and superstition of the day but that was overcome, just as consciousness as woo will be overcome and really is much ahead of where people were with their belief in “bad air’ and “spirits”.

          Another comparison is vitalism – people struggled with how life arose as something that was more than its part – an essence. To explain it, vitalism was brought in. However now we know that chemistry and biology explains life not the imaginary force of vitalism.

  2. Diana

    You trying to to give me brain pain by posting his rant?

    When you boil it down it is all arguements from ignorance,
    we don’t know so I can assert “put anything here” is true.

    The internet is a place where morons come to punish
    rational people.

  3. This person sees the extra dimensions (in addition to the three we are familiar with: two spatial and one temporal) that many theories in physics postulate…

    If we’re down to two spatial dimensions, we arguably need an extra one. 🙂

    I’ve always found consciousness very difficult to even begin to fathom. Why on Earth should we experience life subjectively, as opposed to just responding (perhaps in highly complex ways) to external stimuli and our own internal states? Does my laptop feel like it’s being tickled when I press its keys, or experience a sense of impotent panic when it crashes? If not, what makes my brain so fundamentally different from its circuitry? To me consciousness does seem like a problem of a different order from the mechanisms of heredity and the causes of sickness, but perhaps I’m being unduly pessimistic.

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