In an article in eSceptic-Magazine , physicist Milton Rothman examines the basis for Belief: Realism and Religion
Rothman argues convincingly, that the Moon is still there when noone is looking:
“Realism is the idea that the things that exist in the world have an objective existence; they are there whether or not humans observe them. Furthermore, these objects are made of particles subject to physical laws that govern their properties and behaviors. These laws result from the structure of the universe; they do not depend on human desires or intentions. Neither do they depend on the will of supernatural beings.”
Idealism, on the other hand, is the belief that a star does NOT exist until it comes into my consciousness.
To the Realist, Idealism rests on a reductio ad absurdum, and, furthermore, is the result of “semantic slippage“:
“It must be understood that I am not directly observing the star with my eye. Rather, I am detecting photons which were emitted by the star a long time ago and which, after traveling many light-years, enter my eye. The physical detection takes place in the retina of the eye, where the photons vanish, giving up their energy to a number of electrons in retinal cells by means of the photoelectric effect. These electrons initiate an electrochemical impulse that travels through the optic nerve into my brain. Finally, then, I become aware of the impact of the original photons. I do not become conscious of the photon detection until after the signals have been processed by the visual center of the brain. This does not occur until several milliseconds after the initial detection of the photons. Do the photons not exist until I am conscious of their detection? If you hold to the idealist stance and insist on that interpretation, then you are saying that a non-existent object produced a signal in my retina, and only with subsequent consciousness did it become existent. Or to put it another way, the photons were detected in the retina before they existed.”
Ok , Ok then.., so maybe the Moon /Universe is still “out there”, when “I” am not looking, – it sure does sound plausible, and I do have the greatest respect for these brilliant cosmologists..
I sometimes enjoy listening to debates between proponents of REALISM versus IDEALISM, – and I must admit, that proponents of Idealism for the most part come across as.. , well, – mumbo-jumbo, woo-woo babbling morons! – An example of this is this debate: (Harris and Shermer vs. Chopra and Houston) Does God have a future ?
So where does that leave me..
Well.., – wheras my rational mind is almost exclusively on the side of the Realists, the intuitive, emotional part of me is not just yet – if ever.. -prepared to surrender to what appears to be the only possible conclusion: Realism, i.e. – The World will persist and get along just fine without “me”.. #;-(
Realism appears to be the only sane position of any bright and educated person, and any common-sensical person too, for that matter..
However, – this is exactly where I DO NOT agree ! – I accept.. at least I think I do.., – the solid arguments of the Realists, to the effect that the Universe is independant of any observer, but what this conclusion DOES NOT infer, is that consciousness therefore plays a MINOR role in the “configuration” of existence, or that life necessarily happened by chance..
That is why I was exited to hear a scientist /realist like Henry Markram, – (of Blue Brain-project ), - speculate on the following: “The Universe may have evolved the brain to see itself, to become aware of itself“..
The “problem” with us humans is that our minds /brains are caught up in space-time, – (well, – as far as I know..), – for which reason we – wrongly – take for granted, that either the world “out there” or consciousness “in there” must come first, and therefore be THE fundamental fabric of Nature..
Now, – the concept of TIME itself is extremely baffling, but suppose we disregard the somewhat childish question of WHAT CAME FIRST (Chicken or egg..), and the assumption that “something” MUST be the primary root of everything.. – This would render us open to what seems to me as a far more interesting idea /belief:
The Universe “out there” and consciousness “in there” are INTER-DEPENDANT.
Not in the sense that either entity is ontologically inter-dependant , but in the sense, that either entity without the other is a far bigger absurdity than the arguments for Idealism.
I mean, – A Universe UNAWARE of itself ?? – Noone to look at the stars, noone to appreciate, to enjoy.. ?? – That’s got to be THE most absurd belief of All !
The only equally absurd idea is the belief in “Pure Consciousness”, i.e. consciousness completely devoid of any content. It would seem to me, that consciousness would be in need of “something” to be conscious OF.. !
I know of course, that this is contrary to some Eastern philosophy, but let’s not get into that…
So.., – the “fact” that the Moon is still there when noone is looking, – at a specific point in space-time…, – does not imply that it is “fundamental” over consciousness. Rather, it implies that this is how we experience life, – it is the way life evolves and unfolds, as with a new-born baby, still unaware, or vaguely aware.., of itself.
The core-idea, then, is that consciousness is the inevitable “end-result” of existence, - that it is a part of the “genetic” setup of the “physical” world “out there”, from the “beginning”, – speaking, as always, in space-time dependant vocabulary..
This kind of “woo-woo”-thinking, to which, at the end of the day, – let me confess it once and for all – I adhere after all, allows for woo-woo guru Deepak Chopra to be right about his most fundamental statement: The observed and the observer are ONE !
This idea renders the incessant discussion about Realism versus Idealism futile, and offers a realistic way to reconcile religion with science.
Above all, perhaps, it is soothing for my soul..