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 Evolution and Consciousness

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Aaron
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PostSubject: Evolution and Consciousness   Wed Aug 29, 2007 5:20 pm

I spotted this post over at the forum on Amazon.com. I thought it was very interesting (even if it is a bit long) and thought I'd share it here.

Quote :
I am neither a scientist nor a philosopher but a layman with a longtime interest in both science and philosophy. I'm wary of posting here because of the frequency of insults and personal attacks in these forums. Since I raise questions concerning the traditional paradigm of science and its limitations, and since I include a number of unfamiliar ideas from Eastern traditions, I recognize there may be an even greater than usual temptation to attack, dismiss or ridicule my ideas. In spite of that, I think it's worth the effort to try to place the subject of unconscious evolution versus intelligent design in a somewhat broader context. By doing so I hope to create enough room for the beginnings of a truly productive conversation rather than the usual pattern of science-based folk on one side, and faith-based folk on the other, simply talking past one another. I have, by the way, only the highest regard for science, for the scientific method and for the great scientists of past, present and future. I am open to disagreement, constructive criticism and correction but will not respond to ad hominem attacks or to those who make them.

My comments are prompted by the omission of the phenomenon of human consciousness from most discussions of UE versus ID both in this forum and elsewhere. I see this as a critical omission that has at least two negative consequences: 1) it reduces the debate (at its best) to a hollow, essentially mechanistic side argument by leaving out by far the most important, and most mysterious, product of evolution; 2) it makes it effectively impossible for science and philosophy-the two "competing" schools in the UE/ID debate-ever to find the common ground that will allow a deeper understanding. This artificial boundary between science and philosophy, I believe, can only be removed when scientists in particular-who are among the least likely to consider non-quantitative factors but among the best equipped to evaluate the technical merits of a debate-begin to acknowledge the critical role of the origin of consciousness in any serious study of where we came from and how. (This does not mean, of course, that evolutionary scientists can be expected to incorporate consciousness immediately into their study of evolution-it does mean, however, that a default position of ignoring consciousness only delays the day when evolutionary science will have to confront the issue head on.)

The premise I wish to offer is this: that if one accepts that Darwinism either partly or largely explains the mechanisms behind the development of life, and if one happens to find oneself pondering whether an unseen guiding intelligence may underlie the process, the appearance of human consciousness is a piece of evidence that must be considered if the debate is to have any real meaning or value. There are two main reasons for this, as follows.

1. No one, to my knowledge, has explained or even offered a plausible hypothesis as to how the dead, inanimate matter of a materialist universe could ever give rise to consciousness. When faced with this qualitative gap in understanding, scientists usually either ignore it or give quantitative answers-showing, for example, how increasingly complex organisms have engaged in increasingly complex and sophisticated behaviors until, finally, fully conscious beings have appeared. The fallacy, of course, is that one thing may follow another or be associated with it but that is not proof of causation. Even if we acknowledge causation in a limited sense-for example, that more complex brains give rise to more complex mental processes and fuller consciousness-one is still left with the question of how biochemical processes can, on their own, "cause" consciousness to arise in the first place. If science cannot answer this question or even meaningfully address it-and I respectfully submit that the current paradigm of science cannot-and if we assume that the question can in principle be answered, it follows that some qualitative change in our way of approaching the problem is needed. In short, we need a bridge between science and philosophy.

(The alternative, of course, is to regard science and philosophy as inherently separate disciplines with separate and incompatible models, methods, aims and agendas, and with no hope of ever reconciling the two. I reject this.)

2. Philosophical traditions from both East and West have taught for centuries that consciousness, not matter, is the ultimate and only true reality. From the inspired wisdom of Jesus and the Buddha to the subjective idealism of Bishop Berkeley to the pedestrian example of a tree falling in the forest with no one there to hear it, there is a millennia-old thread of intuition, reason and direct experience attesting to a deeper spiritual reality that transcends the world of matter. One who does not have philosophical or religious leanings may, of course, choose to ignore these teachings as a matter of personal preference. Unless one can refute item #1, however, the gap it exposes suggests that it could be prudent, not only for evolutionary scientists but for others as well, to take a careful look at #2.

These things (which of course have been greatly condensed and oversimplified) lead to the following hypothesis: that there is an underlying spiritual reality which is beyond time and space but which embraces and guides the physical universe and everything in it. Its essence is consciousness-timeless and eternal, without beginning or end. Living things evolved in accordance with an orchestrated plan and creation of that presiding intelligence, and conscious beings ultimately came into existence as tiny sparks of awareness in the vast, eternal ocean of awareness. The physical matrix in which evolution occurs-descent with modification, mutation and natural selection-are, like Newton's laws, valid, useful and true on their own terms but are contained within a greater and more comprehensive reality.

This hypothesis, of course, cannot be tested or falsified within the current parameters of science. There are thus two options: 1) leave science as it is and leave the hypothesis of intelligent design both unproven and unrefuted; or 2) begin to consider ways in which, without compromising its rigor or integrity, the scientific model might be expanded in order to work toward a bridge between disciplines.

Since every active, growing thing, including science, evolves, I believe science is moving inexorably toward #2. The increasingly vocal and emotional argument over UE vs. ID is just one sign that we are approaching a point of critical mass where something must and will happen to break the impasse. Science will then, as it has many times in the past, strike out in new and unexpected directions.

For a whole range of reasons, I believe an important catalyst and tool for the expansion of science, and for its movement toward an accommodation with philosophy, will be the Asian concept known as prana, chi, ki and dahn in various Asian countries and as life energy in the West.

The most fundamental reason is that life energy occupies a unique hybrid space at the intersection of mind, body and spirit. Although neither a physical, mental nor spiritual phenomenon per se, life energy has a foot in all three domains and is highly responsive to human intervention both physical and mental (see below). Therefore it provides a natural entry point for science to begin actively exploring the boundary between the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual dimensions of human life. Where this may lead, of course, is unknown; its virtue is that it will allow science to expand its boundaries without sacrificing its methodology.

The following are some of my reasons for believing that life energy, and the energy domain, will become major topics of study for science and philosophy in the near future.

1. Life energy has been carefully studied and its effects exhaustively documented for centuries.

I am holding a book entitled Acupuncture: A Comprehensive Text, published in 1981 by the Shanghai College of Traditional Medicine. It is a work of some 692 pages and is described by its editors as follows:

...the most comprehensive book written about the modern practice of acupuncture in China, describing in detail the characteristics of some 1,000 points, more than 20 therapeutic methods ranging from body, ear, head and foot acupuncture to moxibustion, ultra-violet radiation and surgical techniques, and a wide assortment of prescriptions for the treatment of over 100 diseases. Although one focus of the book is upon modern research, its strength lies as much in the extensive discussion and interpretation of ancient concepts and techniques.

Unless one is willing to believe that millions of Chinese and other Asian peoples have simply been deluded or have all benefited from the placebo effect for thousands of years, the documented value of energy therapies suggests, at a very minimum, that life energy is something real and tangible that influences human health and that is subject to observation, analysis and study.

2. Although Chinese medicine has traditionally focused more on the physical than on the emotional aspect of health, the integrating power of life energy is particularly striking in the study of mind-body relations. Sigmund Freud-whose star has dimmed in recent years but whose fundamental insights, I believe, were profound and will be long-lasting-anticipated the integrating power of life energy in a number of seminal insights. The links between an infant's physical nourishment and later emotional security or insecurity (oral phase), between the young child's lessons in personal hygiene and later anxiety (anal phase), and between the child's sexual fantasies and the adult need for power (phallic phase) are tangibly embodied in three distinct varieties of life energy, each of which represents a constellation of physical and emotional qualities identified by Freud.

3. The unconscious, I argue, is not simply a vague, amorphous collection of thoughts, feelings and instincts but a tangible, organized structure made of life energies ("psychic energies" in Freud's phrase). The work of energy intuitives suggests that it can be seen as a kind of invisible energy brain-a template that underlies and duplicates the physical brain and body in every detail. As the unseen embodiment of both physical and mental processes, it is the integrating point for the strange hybrid existence that we call everyday life. Its unseen activities create the illusion that mind and body are separate and that biochemical processes are the ultimate source both of physical life and of consciousness itself.

4. Energy principles from many sources suggest that life energy is an expression of spirit and is the (relatively) tangible medium through which spirit communicates with and influences both mind and body. Pranayama, or life energy control, is an ancient meditation technique perfected in India. Its purpose is to consciously harness life energies and, through the exercise of will, redirect them into spiritual pathways. Life energy is thus a direct conduit from ordinary consciousness to the realm of spirit. It is, too, I believe, the medium through which spirit operates on matter through the mutation process. If so, life energy is the real missing link that connects us, not just with our ancestors, but with our creator.

5. At least two aspects of life energy and its behavior suggest a possible entry point for science. The first is life energy's similarity to electricity. Small, inexpensive electronic devices have been available for some time that can detect energy flow or blockage at specific points. They are routinely used by acupuncturists and others for assessment and treatment. Magnets are well known to influence energy flow, either by "pushing" energy through a meridian from its starting point (using the north pole) or "pulling" energy toward its terminus (using the south pole). The energy system itself-with its elaborate network of meridians ("wires") that crisscross the body from head to toe, and chakras ("substations") where energy is received, stored and distributed throughout the system, bears at least a superficial resemblance to an electrical grid. As technology advances, instruments may be developed that can not only detect life energies but that can measure them and perhaps even begin to distinguish one energy type from another.

Another aspect of life energy's behavior introduces the element of consciousness. In quantum mechanics, as I understand it, subatomic particles change their behavior when viewed by an outside observer. A number of popular books have claimed this is evidence that human consciousness can influence the physical world directly. Others have noted, however, that the introduction of light photons into the experimental apparatus is the real explanation. In the case of life energies, however, the influence of human consciousness is not contaminated by the presence of light. Those trained in energy work are able to sense the energies in a subject's body, speed up or slow down energy flow through conscious intention and even transmit energies from a distance. This suggests either that energies move and interact through some mechanistic process catalyzed by thought ("thought photons?") or, even more unlikely and startling, that life energies themselves may have some rudimentary form of consciousness and are able to sense stimulation and respond to it. In either case, it may be that controlled studies can be designed in which instruments will detect and measure energy activity as a function of conscious attention and/or will.

For all these reasons and many more, I am convinced that life energy and its principles will soon enter mainstream awareness in the West. Even when it does, however, and even if it brings the day closer when philosophy and science are reconciled, I suspect the intelligent design/unconscious evolution debate is not likely to be resolved any time soon. The reason is simple-science operates according to the laws of science and spiritual knowledge operates according to the laws of the spirit. One of those laws is that spiritual awareness is not mediated by the intellect per se but by a more direct kind of intuitive perception.

There is an analogy here to the existence of other human minds. A simple exercise confirms it. We know we are not alone in the world, not because we can see and hear other people, but because we can sense their consciousness directly. This is an intuitive experience, not a sensory or cognitive one. When it happens, as it does for each of us many times a day, two minds literally merge and become, to some extent, one. The experience is so clear and convincing that we take it as self-evident, and no amount of scientific evidence could convince us to the contrary. Any such evidence, in fact, would seem strangely irrelevant.

Similarly, experiencing the presence of the creator (by whatever name or description or by no name or description) is a self-contained, self-validating experience. It can take many forms and occur at many levels of depth, power, subtlety or complexity. Its truth is complementary to, but qualitatively different from, scientific truth.

Thus it may be that the existence of an intelligent designer can be proven definitively only through direct experience. Unless science can devise a more objective test-perhaps aided by its exploration of the life energy realm-a large enough number of people may need to practice some form of deep meditation to permit a consensus similar to the current consensus regarding the validity of scientific knowledge.

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PostSubject: Re: Evolution and Consciousness   Wed Aug 29, 2007 5:28 pm


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