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4/16/06


Mind Shadows      A Physicist's Proof of God's Existence: Point & Counterpoint

Point. Physicist Amit Goswami "is convinced, along with a number of others who subscribe to the same view, that the universe, in order to exist, requires a conscious sentient being to be aware of it. Without an observer, he claims, it only exists as a possibility. And as they say in the world of science, Goswami has done his math. Marshalling evidence from recent research in cognitive psychology, biology, parapsychology and quantum physics, and leaning heavily on the ancient mystical traditions of the world, Goswami is building a case for a new paradigm that he calls 'monistic idealism,' the view that consciousness, not matter, is the foundation of everything that is."

A professor of physics at the University of Oregon and a member of its Institute of Theoretical Science, Dr. Goswami is part of a growing body of renegade scientists who in recent years have ventured into the domain of the spiritual in an attempt both to interpret the seemingly inexplicable findings of their experiments and to validate their intuitions about the existence of a spiritual dimension of life. The culmination of Goswami's own work is his book The Self-Aware Universe: How Consciousness Creates the Material World. Rooted in an interpretation of the experimental data of quantum physics (the physics of elementary particles), the book weaves together a myriad of findings and theories in fields from artificial intelligence to astronomy to Hindu mysticism in an attempt to show that the discoveries of modern science are in perfect accord with the deepest mystical truths. Found here.

Counterpoint. "My main objection to Goswami's philosophy is that he has defined consciousness in such a way that it no longer has its normal meaning of mental consciousness, but instead is supposed to refer to something non-mental. We might call this 'Goswamian consciousness' or 'quantum consciousness', as opposed to 'mental consciousness'. He says, for instance:
  • ...consciousness transcends both matter and mind ... [Hard Questions, Sect. II]

  • Conventionally, Western philosophers attribute properties of consciousness - experience and choice - to the mind. This has been corrected in quantum functionalism in which consciousness is defined to transcend both matter and mind. [Hard Questions, Sect. VI]

    In so far as Goswami's philosophy is a monism at all, it is therefore a neutral monism, not a mental monism (or 'monistic idealism' as he calls it). As I have argued elsewhere, any neutral monism is actually identical to a version of physical monism, just because the physical world is already as neutral as a world can be. . . . You will not, for instance, spot any electrons by looking out of the window of the Clapham omnibus: we are acquainted with the basic constituents of the physical world only through the propositions and formulae of physics. So, those extrinsic properties are the only properties possessed by those entities. Hence, physicalism itself is 'neutral' in the relevant sense. Therefore, to say that a metaphysical theory such as Goswami's is a 'neutral' monism is just to say that it is a 'physical' monism." Found here

    My comments. In the counterpoint, an experiential approach is used. (Looking out the window of the Clapham omnibus.) For whatever it is worth, a different kind of experience consistently supports monistic idealism. All the accounts of mystics, be they Christian, Hindu, Buddhists, Sufi, share a pattern of description in terms of monistic idealism. People who report their experiences under hallucinogens also reveal a pattern of monistic idealism.

    For a different understanding, I offer another approach than either the point, the counterpoint, or my comment above. Dostoevsky and modern epileptics reveal the role of brain temporal lobes in mystical experiences. Antonio Damasio has found that decisions simply cannot be made without the emotional activity of the brain's limbic system. The relationship of temporal lobes and limbic system suggests that deep religious conversion not only involves a new "temporal lobe" perspective, but that the transformation to it is aided by the limbic system. This means that, at least in this respect, gurus are similar to the Christian Reborn. Eastern gurus are religious converts. Any primer on the neuro-anatomy of consciousness and unconsciousness demonstrates that the brain works in ways unbeknownst to them despite their claims to know the workings of the mind. Through the limbic system, they become converted. The emotional/decisional aspect of their perspective allows them to see the world anew, whether their approach was as a jnani, through wisdom or as a bakhti, through devotion. Their students follow them precisely because some disciple brains are not wired to make similar decisions.
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