The Magic Of Materialism

21st century will turn out to be an important landmark in the history of mankind. We live at the threshold of a great scientific breakthrough. Science has uncovered several important facts about the nature of reality in last two centuries, but the greatest of all discoveries has evaded us so far.  What is Life? What is consciousness? Does life have any meaning?

Life is a puzzle. Man has sought answers to this puzzle through religion and poetry for thousands of years. Thoughtful individuals in every generation, every culture, struggled to understand life by linking the material and spiritual aspects of reality. Unfortunately, no one could find answers that were universally acceptable. Some modern thinkers have even proposed that these are wrong type of questions and no answer could ever be found. But such questions continue to fascinate man.

I believe these are very important questions. Previous generations could not find convincing answers because they lacked the conceptual tools to deal with these questions. Scientific study of Life began only about 200 years ago. Charles Darwin’s theory of Evolution provided a new framework to look at the phenomena of life. There was no such understanding at the time of Buddha or Christ.

Science has produced dazzling new insights into the nature of Life, but the puzzle remains largely unsolved. There is a huge gap between Life as understood by science and LIFE as lived by living things. Present day Science of Life, Neo-Darwinism, though far more satisfying than God-based explanations, is still inconsistent with Reality. Let me explain why I think so.

  1. Are human beings special?

First of all, Neo-Darwinism involves a tacit assumption that human beings are special, unlike the rest of life. I don’t believe human beings have any divine rights. We can’t have a theory of life applicable to all living things except man. Well, Neo-Darwinism is exactly such a theory.

According to Neo-Darwinism evolution is driven by random genetic variations and natural selection. The recipe to build an organism is contained in its genetic code. It is copied from parents to offspring during the re-productive process. This copying process is extremely complex and tightly controlled but sometimes errors creep in by chance. Members of a species exhibit variation due to such copying errors. Vast majority of variations will be harmful to the individual organism, but some might turn out to be beneficial in the struggle for survival. Lucky individuals with ‘favourable variations’ survive longer and leave more descendents. Unlucky ones lose out in the number game. Gradual accumulation favourable variations lead to evolution over millions of years. Life can be viewed as a battle played out by genes struggling to outwit each other. Individual organisms are nothing more than vehicles built by genes for their own propagation.

Primary interest of any living organism is the survival of its genes. Richard Dawkins, former professor of Public Understanding of Science at Oxford University, thinks that genes are actually selfish. ‘We, and all other animals, are machines created by our genes. Like successful Chicago gangsters, our genes have survived, in some cases for millions of years, in a highly competitive world. This entitles us to expect certain qualities in our genes. I shall argue that a predominant quality to be expected in a successful gene is ruthless selfishness1’.

Now, this, in a nutshell, is present day Science of Life. Let us see if this will help to understand Life better. All our actions should be directly or indirectly helping our genes to survive. We should be working hard to produce as many children as possible and ensure they survive to reproductive age so that our genes continue to flourish.

But there is a problem. Even staunch Neo-Darwinists agree this is not true for human beings. We behave in thoroughly un-Darwinian ways. We evolved through natural selection but something changed once we became full humans! All other living things blindly follow the commands of their genes. They struggle to survive, procreate and die exactly as Darwinism predicts.  We are different. We even have the ability to go against the commands of genes!

Developed countries generally suffer from low birth rates. Many well-to-do couple choose not to have children. Not only the rich evade their genetic responsibility of creating as many children as they can afford, some even tend to adopt other’s children! The practice of adoption is suicidal from the gene’s point of view because it leads to the propagation of someone else’s genes at your expense. There are several other human practices that defy science of Life. Altruism, Care for the old and invalid, Celibacy, Contraception, Suicide etc. are completely un-Darwinian.

Neo-Darwinists resolve this difficulty by arguing ‘humans have the capability to rise above the dictates of our gene masters.’ Humans need not blindly follow the instructions of our genes. Our own evolution is largely decided by our culture. Somehow we have moved beyond naive Darwinism!

This argument is completely baffling: How did we end up with this un-Darwinian ability if we evolved through brute Darwinian mechanism? We are, after all, only a collection of molecules constantly battling for resources to survive and reproduce. Then how on earth could this tendency ‘not to survive’ evolve?

Steven Pinker, one of the most outspoken modern advocates of selfish gene model has the following to say about his own lack of interest to have children, despite being a successful academic and author. ‘By Darwinian standards I am a horrible mistake, a pathetic loser…. But I am happy to be that way, and if my genes don’t like it, they can go jump in the lake2.’

What exactly is the ‘I’ that can go against the commands of my own genes? It simply is inconceivable because there is no ‘I’ left when the organism is understood as a survival machine. The sense of myself, ‘I-ness’ has to be an illusion. I have no problem with that, but it leaves another insurmountable problem for Neo-Darwinists: How can this illusion go against the dictates of genes, which are real, material stuff?

There cannot be any place for free will if Neo-Darwinism is true. The idea of free will and genetic determinism cannot co-exist. We are all machines, merely following instructions coded in our genes. Neo-Darwinists themselves are not prepared to face the consequences of this line of argument. They resolve the difficulty by bringing in the mysterious ‘I’ through the back door!

2) The art of eating your cake and having it too!

Secondly, Neo-Darwinism as purely materialistic explanation has no place for beauty, awe and wonder. Such qualities should be unreal, mere hallucinations. But no life scientist will openly acknowledge this. Some of them actually claim that life gets more exciting and magical when understood through Neo-Darwinism. Richard Dawkins claims: ‘facts of the real world as understood through the methods of science – are magical in…the poetic sens3’. I believe this position is wrong and misleading.

Real world can indeed be experienced as magical. Anyone who has looked at the starlit sky and said ‘Aha!’ would know that. But such experiences cannot be called ‘real’ in a materialistic worldview. Any magical experience, poetic or otherwise, must be a hallucination if we go by the rules of materialism. Dawkins is misleading his readers by suggesting that materialistic understanding of nature can lead to poetic ecstasy.

Materialism is based on the belief that measurability is the acid test for reality. ‘Real’ has to be measurable (objectively describable as a physical quantity or a mathematical model). ‘Reality’ so defined has nothing magical about it. There is no place for beauty or awe in a world of sterilized objective descriptions.

This may sound puzzling because all of us must have experienced beauty while contemplating some objective fact. Look at such an experience closely. What exactly is happening when we look at the starlit sky and see it is beautiful? Twinkling little stars are nothing but massive, luminous balls of plasma held together by gravity, light years away from earth. This is an objective fact. If we insist and remain constantly aware of this fact as we look at the sky we will never experience beauty. A fact is a fact is a fact. Nothing more and nothing less. Where does” beauty” come in?

Appreciation of beauty always involves a shifting of perspective. We stop being a ‘fact gatherer’ the moment we see something as ‘beautiful’. We leave behind the objective view point and become one with the object of perception for a brief moment. That is why a robot can never say ‘Aha!’ while looking at the starlit sky in the sense a human observer does. A robot has only one perspective. It cannot ‘leave behind’ objectivity and still remain functional. But human observers routinely do that. We did not evolve to be robots. It is natural for human beings to shift perspectives and see the ‘factness’ as well as ‘beauty and awe’.

A materialist describing something as ‘beautiful’ is contradicting his own position. He cannot shift perspectives because he acknowledges only one. Experience of poetic beauty has to be an illusion if we agree with the materialist that ‘Real=Objectively Knowable’. Richard Dawkins is eating his cake and having it too!

I am pretty sure a purely materialistic explanation for Life, such as Neo-Darwinism, is wrong. Of course Neo-Darwinists are aware of the lack of correlation between science of Life and LIFE as lived by real organisms. This difficulty is resolved by assuming mysterious factors such as ‘Free Will’ and ‘Magic of Reality’.

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  1. Richard Dawkins, ‘The Selfish Gene’.
  2. Steven Pinker, ‘How the Mind Works’.
  3. Richard Dawkins,‘The Magic of Reality: How We Know What’s Really True’.
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What is this ‘Mind’ stuff?

Materialism has an irresistible logic. How do we know something is real unless another person can independently verify it? Real stuff must be objectively represent-able. Measurability is the acid test for reality. Atoms and galaxies pass the test but mind doesn’t. Mind is a mere shadow cast by the complexity of brain chemistry.

There are serious objections. Even the most mundane of experience is not the same as its description. Some of our feelings cannot be described in words at all. Reality appears to have a component that cannot be captured in objective descriptions.

That is all fine, the materialist would say. How do you prove such personal experience is real? How is your ‘spiritual experience’ different from mere hallucination? Can you point out the reality of your claims to a skeptic and convince him?

This is a very deep question – Are there real stuff that are truly beyond science? Does nature include aspects that cannot be understood objectively? This is answered in one of the following ways:

1. Yes. Nature has aspects that are beyond science (one must have faith in a supernatural God).

2. No. Science can completely explain nature, given enough time and resources.

3. We will never know, but all that is knowable is what comes to us through science and there is no point in speculating what lies beyond.

4. Yes. Nature has aspects beyond objective description. These are accessible to man through direct experience and there is nothing supernatural about it.

 I have always felt the presence of unexplainable in my experience. It’s only my subjective feeling, yet too real to be ignored. How can I establish the reality of my ‘purely subjective’ experience?

Let us see how far we can go with the materialist position – measurable or quantifiable things alone are real. There is no mind stuff. What we call mind is an epiphenomenon, an echo of the chemical noise in the neurons. Yet there is one thing undeniable- the fact that we have all these knowledge. How did man come to have knowledge? What is the mechanism of knowing? Vision is associated with eyes and a complex mechanism involving cornea, lens, retina, optic nerves and vision neurons. Is there a similar mechanism for knowing?

‘Knowing’ has something to do with mind. But wait for a moment – we have ruled out mind as a mere echo. ‘Knowing’ has something to do with brain. Human brain must have a unique knowledge producing mechanism. Let us treat it as a black box. The gears and valves are hidden for the moment, but its output is real, objective knowledge.

How can this black box be studied?

Man alone, of all creatures, possess objective knowledge. How did man come have such knowledge? Where did this black box come from? Remember we are attempting to (objectively) know the mechanism of objectivity. One possibility is to look into its evolutionary history (I suspect this is the only way to avoid the trap of self-referencing. History offers another level of objectivity in this unique case of knower trying to know itself).

Evolution forms the background to understand everything related to living things – including knowledge. Do we see a history of knowledge in evolution? Other bodily functions such as vision have a history. Human eyes evolved from primitive light sensitive cells. How about the knowledge producing black box?

We have our theories of knowing, but such theories always begin with human civilizations. Our history of knowledge is the history of rationality. We find it unimaginable that reality can be effectively tackled without “getting out” and forming an objective view, yet this is how life flourished for 3.5 billion years. There are colors invisible to our eyes and sounds inaudible our ears. Is there knowledge beyond our black box?

An evolutionary worldview must have place for pre-rational modes of comprehension. A series of ‘tools of comprehension’ must have emerged in nature. Rational mind is the latest addition to this collection. If man is the product of a 3.5 billion year long evolutionary process, he cannot claim superiority for his ‘knowing’. It is just one of the ways to comprehend certain aspects of reality. On the other hand, ‘Science is the only way to knowledge’ sits much more comfortably with creationism. A world created by God is consistent with comprehension beginning with human beings.

We need to have an epistemology going all the way back to the first living cell. Direct experience and intuition should be recognized as valid modes of comprehension, supplementing rationality. This could be the way to a truly religious worldview.

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Man, Center of the Universe

It would appear ridiculous to make such a claim in this age of science. Isn’t uniqueness of man a discredited idea from Europe’s Christian past? Man was the center of creation according to bible. God created the universe in six days and placed man at its center. Well, every educated person knows that it was just a story. Science has demolished all such illusions through a series of enlightening discoveries. Copernicus removed earth from center of the physical universe and Darwin’s theory of evolution established human beings as just another species playing out the battle for survival with millions of other species.

History of science will list down how man was gradually removed from god given privileges, but did it really happen? I believe we must look at this matter more carefully. Isn’t man still clinging onto some of his divine rights? Science rests on a tacit assumption that man is the measure of everything. Knowing (objectively) is uniquely human. Man accepts anything as worthy of serious attention only if translated into ‘objective knowledge’. Isn’t man assuming divine rights by claiming his unique way of knowing as the measure of reality?

Nature, in all its beauty and splendor existed for billions of years without human beings cooking up their objective explanations. We assume that other living things do not understand anything (seriously) because they are not able to communicate their thoughts with us. Why is the human way of looking out superior than a giraffe’s way or a banyan tree’s way? Man has colonized the universe with his powerful weapon of objective knowledge, and is unabashedly claiming mastery like the ‘rational thinking’ Europeans, in the past, did to native populations all over the world. Claiming superiority for ‘objective knowing’ is nothing but placing human arrogance at the center of universe. 

It is not surprising that man began his attempt to understand nature by imagining himself at the center. The capability for ‘knowing objectively’ was something unprecedented. Self-awareness was like a tiny flame struggling to illuminate a dark, alien world. It was indeed center of the known universe. Knowledge and awareness were emanating from man, there by placing him at the center spot, by definition. This is the experience of centrality colorfully reflected in all creation myths.

Something strange happened as knowledge grew in strength. Man realized that universe has an order independent of his existence as observer. Objective knowledge some how represented deeper truths about reality. Copernican revolution was a rude awakening. Earth lost its central place in the distribution of heavenly bodies. Darwin’s theory shattered another illusion; human life became no different from other forms of life. A supernatural God was no more necessary as a universal causal agency.

Unfortunately this realization is yet to sink in. Science teaches that man evolved as the result of natural processes going back billions of years in time. How many of us realize the full consequence of this truth? How often are our thoughts and actions guided by science? We are on our own the moment we step out of the dry rationality of science, in a world spanning barely 3000 years of written history. We hide a great secret in the darkest corners of our mind. Most of us are creationists, believing the universe is only as old as our grandparents. 

The greatest challenge facing man is to place his 60 or 70 year lifespan in the context of biological evolution. Individuality is a minor spurt on the surface of a live, flowing stream of life. Realizing the warped nature of our sense of history is a sacred experience. We will make completely different decisions if we understand and accept this truth. But we continue living irresponsibly, imagining ourselves to be masters of the universe, unleashing our arrogance on every species that share mother earth with us. 

Knowledge cannot be de-linked from responsibility. We believe we could do so and this is our problem. We believe we could take our knowledge forward uninhibited and someone else will clean up the mess. It is only getting worse because we are arrogant enough to insist that human rationality is the only way, not one of many possible ways that evolved in nature as tools of comprehension. Science of life has failed to understand human stupidity, and I believe it is incomplete for this reason. We need a new science of life, one that will start with the evolutionary history of objective knowledge. 

Let us be very clear that the objective way of looking at nature began with self-aware humans. This was indeed a new beginning and man slowly realized that rational thinking reveals beautiful patterns in nature, universal truths independent of time and space. The success of science in explaining unknowns was almost miraculous and fired the imagination of generations of fearless adventurers. Unfortunately, method of science applied to life produced a self-defeating explanation. Life became a product of Chance and Time. Variety and splendor of natural world became the end result of competition for limited resources. This was science steering off its course, like religions explaining age of the earth.

Imagine looking out from other vantage points. Imagine a giraffe or a banyan tree theorizing about the nature of reality. I believe our own science will coincide with other possible sciences except in the science of life. A giraffe with sufficient intelligence could work out the theory of planetary motion, but not a theory of life such as neodarwinism. Theories of life are intrinsically linked with theories of knowing, and man has a theory of knowledge which places him at the center of the universe. I doubt any other life form will be so insensitive. 

Temporal limitations of individual life severely distort our perception. We need to realize that lines appearing straight and parallel are in fact tiny segments of huge intersecting curves. It is our arrogance that draw borders, making it convenient for us to ignore non-linearities lying beyond the tip of our noses.

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The Essence of Man

Language can sometimes be a source of great confusion. In the second half of 19th century a heated debate began in Europe with the publication of Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species’. It concerned the origin and nature of man. Unfortunately there was no agreement on what exactly is ‘man’. Those who took side with science saw man as complex machine. All of man’s functions were explainable in terms of mechanical causes and effects. There were some doubts about the nature of mind, but a ‘ghost-in-the-machine’ model was favoured with the assurance that the ghost would eventually be explained away. Opposing camp was lead by the christian church which saw immaterial soul as the essence of man. Physical body was a cage, and soul was in constant battle against bodily temptations. Church combatted the evil of materialism using this ‘bird-in-a-cage’ model. Theologians using the word ‘man’ meant bird/ghost, while scientists using the same word meant machine/cage. Great confusion and disagreement followed.
 
Let us come back to this crucial question. What is man? What does a scientist mean when he states ‘man is a product of evolution’? He is referring to a complex organism with all its functions, of which he himself is a sample. Going back home from his laboratory or lecture hall, does he mean the same thing whenever he uses the term ‘I’ ? What is the correlation between objective ‘man’ which is a subject of scientific study and subjective ‘I’ which is outside the realm of science?
 
Let us make an attempt to recognize ourselves. I can perceive myself as something separate from surroundings. There is obviously a ‘me’ and a ‘non-me’. I have my body, thoughts and feelings. I use my reason and logic to a great extent in interacting with external world. I frequently experience joy and frustrations. Most of the time my faculties are under control, but there are times when I lose control. I am not a unified whole, but a conglomeration of many entities, both physical and non-physical, with the rational component leading the pack.
 
I perceive great divisions in the living world. Plants are living, but something differentiate them from animals. I call it consciousness. Animals are conscious, but plants are not. Comparing humans and other animals, I see that humans are ‘self-aware’ but animals are not. Self-awareness separates man from all other life forms. It is not exactly right to qualify humans as self-aware. Our sense of identity is clouded in a state of partial awareness. We are in fact at an intermediate stage in the transformation from consciousness to self-awareness, yet to reach the state of full-blown awareness. We see the world and ourselves through a tiny window on the boundary wall of consciousness.
 
How do we solve an algebraic problem involving many unknowns? We begin with a simple statement such as ‘let x be the first variable.’ This is not a Greek invention, but the default method of problem solving in the universe. Primitive humans, at the infancy of self-awareness, used the same method to differentiate themselves from their sorroundings. ‘Let I be myself!’ Problem solver had to have a name – the concept of self was essential before outside objects could be named.
 
We had earlier named our instrument of knowing as the ‘demystifier’. It is the measuring rod scaling the universe. It makes objective knowledge possible through de-mystification. It is a non-physical organ that evolved recently (on evolutionary time scale) to help matter reach newer levels of creative existence. This is the ‘I’ we speak of, the name we have given to the rational, self-aware part of ourselves. We often forget that this rational component is only a part of the conglomeration that we truly are, confusing our real nature with the demystifier and its picture of itself. In the blur of partial awareness, I limit myself to the recently evolved expressive fragment, howling infant of my totality. True, this part is extremely powerful because it has its words and reason. But there are other unknown, far away regions of myself, alien to the demystifier.
 
Why is the fundamental property of creativity different from other properties such as mass or electric charge? Why should we classify it as irrational? Why can’t the demystifier deal with it by fitting a model as done with other properties? Creativity inherent in the primary substance has evolved into self-awareness in our species. This creative awareness is what we identified as the demystifier. That makes quantifying creativity an impossible task, like measuring the length of a meter rod. One can think of such a measurement only if there is another standard to measure with. If the universe has only one standard of length, it would be absurd to consider measuring this standard. Precisely that is the case with creativity. We know other fundamental properties through creativity. This is the only possible instrument of knowing. There exists nothing to know creativity with, consequence being the immesurability of creativity itself. Universe appears comprehensible to human rationality because creativity is its moving force. Comprehensibility of nature is trivial, like the fact that all numbers are divisible be one.
 
Key to a deeper understanding of human condition is the demystifier’s relationship with its mysterious source. This powerful organ evolved to meet the latest challenges of creative becoming, out of primary substance’s drive to know itself. How is it related to the unknowable whole from which it originated? Demystifier was born with the mission of conquering the unknown and thus being a valuable aid to survival. It has accomplished this task well enough, as proven by the success human species. But this powerful conqueror is seated on enemy shoulders. It is waging this all important war against the unknown from an unenviable resting place. This is the tragedy of human condition.Our destiny is to fight with the mysterious whole that is our source.
 
One cannot think of a way in which this turn of evolution could have been averted. Knowledge had to be acquired, even though it meant fragmentation and suffering to human beings. We were not left alone in the dark to suffer, there were curative inventions to alleviate our misery.
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Neo-Darwinism: A Black hole in Logic?

Biology is truly unique among the branches of modern science. Biologists study life and living systems. It is unique because the torch of rational enquiry is now turned to life itself. The boundary between observer and observed becomes a minefield of ambiguities. Life is observed and measured as in any other scientific investigation. Living things are considered as survival machines. Infinitely more complex than any machine existing today but machines nevertheless. The observer generalizes that he too must be a machine because other living things are machines.

A lot of biological  research today is aimed at understanding life at the molecular components level. While such research is valuable in finding solutions such as medical cure, this could hardly be called study of life. Why not the life scientist begin his study with himself? Can the biologist conclude that he is a machine if he begins with the thought process of observation?

Let us begin with the undeniable fact of our existence. Why are we here? What are the secrets behind our being? We must turn to science for answers because as seen earlier, rational knowledge is our safest ally. Science has a beautiful explanation for life in the theory of evolution. Truth of evolution as a fact can hardly be denied. There is irrefutable evidence to establish that evolution has actually occurred. Life began on earth roughly three and half billion years ago. After that there was a slow process of evolution, single cells to multi-cells and huge colonies of cells, to flowering plants and flying insects, land dwelling mammals and man.

How did life evolve? Let us consider the Neodarwinist explanation.

It all began with primitive self replicators – complex molecules that could copy themselves. (How these clever molecules came into existence is still a mystery, but let us ignore this problem of origin). These primitive molecules incessantly made copies of themselves, giant molecular machines churning out more giants. Often there were copying errors resulting in mutant replicators or copies that were not exact. Some of these mutants turned out to be more efficient in the copying act. The game was all about making maximum number of copies in minimum time utilizing available resources. Successful mutations spread like wild fire in this struggle for survival. More copying errors and more powerful survival strategies, a series benevolent errors building upon each other, relatively simple chemical systems evolved into monstrously complex trees and animals.

The story thus told is too short and simplistic, but this is the crux of Neodarwinism. Cumulative random mutations, together with struggle for existence, brought about the variety and splendor of biosphere existing today. There was a kind of ‘natural selection’, where blind modifying influences of nature, over geological time periods, fulfilled the role of a purposeful designer. What appears as design and purpose on hindsight is nothing but the result of random variations and natural selection.

This immensely powerful doctrine cuts deep into some of the very basic instincts of man. Declaring that science cannot find any purpose or meaning behind human existence, Neodarwinism brands such concepts as unscientific. ‘You exist because your ancestors were successful in reproduction’, to quote Richard Dawkins. Life is nothing but a property of an accidental collection of atoms. No purpose in evolution, no guiding force except the necessity born out of countless random fluctuations.

This is one of the most powerful ideas created by man. While philosophers are arguing about the verifiability of this theory, vast majority of the scientific community has no doubt that available proof settles the matter conclusively. This doctrine is believed to be true, and often defended with vehemence, like religious faith.

The strongest argument in favor of Neodarwinism is that there is no other scientific explanation for biological evolution. Creationists can see divine purpose in the design of living machines, but where does the designer come from? A supernatural God of dubious origins has no place in scientific enquiry. Can there be an alternate explanation for life without invoking a mysterious God perilously hanging from nowhere?

It is possible if we realize that creativity is a fundamental property  of the stuff we call matter. Creativity is ever at work transforming material systems into higher levels of creative existence. There are four such levels relevant to the status of our universe. Inanimate, Live, Conscious and Self-aware. Creativity is confined to regular patterns of behavior at the level of inanimate matter. Structural and behavioral patterns discovered by sciences of inanimate matter are the projections of such behavior onto our rational frame of reference. The fact that human mind could discover these wonderful patterns is an enormous puzzle in itself. Why is the universe comprehensible? How are we able to discover meaningful laws behind natural processes? We will come back to this question later.

Material systems, in their inherent drive to be creative, devised various organs of creativity. Physical survival is the greatest of creative needs for every organism. The earliest organs were therefore meant for increasing the organism’s survival value. There is a hierarchy of creative needs in more complex life forms. Evolution is coming up with fresh demands with every leap forward. Self-actualization may not mean much to bacteria, but is a creative need in human beings. Thus we have a living system, over the span of millions of generations, developing an optimal set of creative organs. This is the process of biological evolution seen in the fossil records.

Philosopher Daniel Dennett describes the theory of natural selection as a ‘universal acid’ that eats through traditional belief systems. It would be more appropriate to call this theory a ‘logical black hole’. By introducing elements of chance and randomness into the most beautiful of creative activities, this hypothesis has brought modern civilization into a grave crisis, threatening to suck up the work of 3.5 billion years. The future of human species, and hence the whole of life, will depend on our success in realizing the true nature of creative becoming.

Such an explanation based on creativity hypothesis may appear trivial. What do we achieve by stating that living things evolve because it is their nature to evolve? How can scientists study life if they begin with introspection? Science is after all meant to be objective. Well, this is where we come to a road-block. There is nothing wrong in scientists studying living things or their component parts objectively. Such studies could produce many useful results. But these can not be generalized into sweeping theories of life without devastating consequences. Life itself is perhaps not a subject for science as we understand it today.

The ‘why’ of evolution is best explained using metaphors. Evolution is like a pilgrimage, fundamental substance’s journey of self-discovery. We know this fundamental substance as matter. Matter was forced on this journey by its own creativity. Primary substance wanted to see itself, hear itself and know itself. Billions of years elapsed in instinctive gravitational expansions, before a concentrated brew of carbon compounds could be prepared here, on earth, to usher into a new phase of the expedition. Life emerged from the magic of concentrated irrationality. Consciousness developed from life as a tree would grow from its seed, and self-awareness is the flowering of the tree of consciousness. Human beings arrived on the scene. Why are we here? Why, if not to take part in the pilgrimage?

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Creativity As A Property Of Matter

Science is conquering new frontiers day by day.  Everything ‘knowable’ about the universe will be revealed eventually. But that would still leave a large part of reality unexplained, because there are truths that cannot be known objectively. Our objective certainty is built over a more fundamental uncertainty. Something always slips through the scientist’s fingers.

We could conclude from simple observations that there exists an entity which is the stuff of the universe. We call it matter. Matter manifests in many forms and distributions. As seen earlier, this reality out there is terrifying in its virgin state. We de-mystify reality in order to extract objective knowledge

Let us leave the ‘demystifier’ as a black box for the time being. Let us accept it as one of the tools we use to interact with reality. The observer or the ‘demystifier’ does a cover up in order to make things graspable, and then goes on to form patterns by arranging ‘things’ so grasped. Irreducible fundamental properties are extracted in such a way that these properties can completely qualify matter. Concepts such as mass and electric charge are derived as such elementary properties.

The realization that will bridge the chasm in human understanding is that Creativity is such an irreducible property. Concepts such as mass and electric charge are measurable and quantifiable. Creativity cannot be quantified or modeled (reason behind the elusiveness of creativity will become evident as we go on). Creativity forces its laws on material systems. Reason can only partially grasp the mysterious laws of creativity. The part so grasped is our science.

Creativity as a fundamental property can be visualized using an analogy. The concept of complex numbers is used in algebra to describe solutions of certain types of equations. Complex numbers are written as z = a + ib, where z is the complex number, a & b are real numbers, and i stands for square root of -1. Number a is the real part and b the imaginary part of the complex number. There is nothing unreal about the imaginary part. It is as much a part of the complex number as the real part. Mathematicians were reluctant to accept the concept of complex numbers in the beginning, but as it turned out, this concept was essential to solve higher degree polynomials.

 

Complex numbers can be represented as points in the complex plane, defined by a horizontal (real) axis and a vertical (imaginary) axis.

Real objects are like complex numbers. They have two components – real/imaginary or graspable/ungraspable. Material interactions are like trajectories in the complex plane. We project these points and their interactions onto the ‘real axis’ in the act of de-mystification. Scientific laws are such projections. Unfortunately we cannot do a projection on to the imaginary axis as in algebra. Imaginary component of reality can only be experienced (subjectively).

Science is what we do in order to understand external reality. But why should we limit ourselves to the rational/objective component? Unquantifiable properties are an integral part of reality. Reason is a very late development in biological evolution. Is it scientific to assert that every aspect of reality is open to reason? Our knowledge originates from demystification, the act of covering up or pushing behind the inherent mystery of things. We are dealing with demystified leftovers when we do science.

We use two eyes to see the world. What would happen if we try seeing with one eye? Our world picture will be flat, two-dimensional. We will only see length and width, not the depth of things. Two eyes are essential for stereoscopic vision. This is the case with perception too. Human cerebral cortex has two halves. Left hemisphere deals with rational ideas and logic. Right half manages feelings, artistic abilities and pattern recognition. When perception is limited to rational or ‘left-brain’ mode, resulting experiences will lack ‘meaning’ or the depth dimension. Both left and right brains are needed for stereoscopic perception. Evolution gave us two eyes and two brains. It is natural for us to see depth in what we observe. It is also natural to perceive meaning in what we experience.

Unfortunately, modern science (through excessive reliance on reason and logic) teach us to limit our perception. Most of our educational institutions are designed to destroy or atrophy right brain functions. We always tell our children to look at things objectively. We are encouraging them to be one-eyed monsters.

Going back to the analogy of the complex plane, rationalists believing in the supreme power of reason are confining their existence to the proximity of the ‘real’ axis. Similarly mystics are one-dimensional beings existing too close to the vertical ‘imaginary’ axis. Between these two extremes lies a great plane that is our true homeland. Extreme rationality leads to the conclusion that life is a meaningless accident. ‘Only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul’s habitation henceforth be built’, declared Bertrand Russell, after relishing the triumph of reason. Russell’s foundation of unyielding despair is in fact a foundation of half-truths. For the past three hundred years, man has been accumulating half-truths in the name of progress. We build our lives on them, and like castles built on sand, our lives fail and disintegrate.

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Knowledge and Ignorance

Man is driven by the need to create patterns from his experience of reality. Pattern seeking is instinctive to human beings. It is the driving force behind our search for meaning and order. Individuals pick up a variety of ‘pattern forming techniques’ through education and social conditioning. Such skills are used to comprehend and connect the multitude of experience, to form meaningful patterns out of the cacophony of sensory inputs.

Every culture has ground rules to guide its members in this task. For example, ‘survival of fittest’ decides the course of biological evolution has emerged as a key guiding principle in modern societies. Unfortunately, most fashionable of such ground rules contradict each other. It is not surprising because these are derived from mutually exclusive sources of scientific knowledge and religious faith. Experience is compartmentalized, creating conflicts in both personal and social interactions. Patterns emerging out of our times are distorted and contradictory.

Imagine an arithmetic based on the assumption 1+1 = 3. Building up from here, no amount of hard work or ingenuity will produce results that truly correspond to reality. Mankind is facing a similar crisis today. Our problems originate from a cause that is too fundamental to be solved by present day scientific thinking. We are suffering the consequences of an epistemological error, a serious mistake in comprehending the relationship between Knowledge and Reality.

I believe this is the reason for our failure to integrate subjective and objective aspects of experience into a meaningful whole. My inner sense of ‘being at harmony with nature’ is as real to me as the force of gravity. Why is it that science has no place for such purely subjective experiences? What is the significance of experiences that cannot be translated into objective expressions?

Knowledge

Any attempt to unify human experience should begin with the question of knowledge. What constitute knowledge and why is it so powerful? Last two centuries saw explosive growth in one type of knowledge, objective knowledge, in the form of science and technology. It is true that our lives are often dominated by ‘subjective’ knowledge, but we must begin by suspecting its validity. Scientists, using data and reason, can convince any intelligent person to see the truth of their findings. Poets or mystics cannot do that. On the other hand, reason may be truly limited in its explanatory power. What other options do we have? Nothing. Reason is the only path, even when the destination is its outer limits.

We must understand ‘knowledge’ as a product evolution. We must dig into its evolutionary history to understand how it came into being. This is the only way to study ‘knowledge’ objectively. Words such as mind or consciousness cannot be used to explain knowledge because we do not know what exactly ‘mind’ or ‘consciousness’ is. There is no mind to begin with, only the objective certainty of evolution.

Life evolved from simple self-replicating molecules to monstrously complex trees and animals over a period of 3.5 billion years. ‘Knowing’ was not around for almost the entire duration of this growth and proliferation. It is a very recent entry on evolutionary time scale. How did the transition from ‘unknowing ape’ to ‘knowing man’ happen? How did early humans perceive themselves and their environment?

I am sitting comfortably in my office room, typing these words into the computer. There is a beautifully painted jug on the side table. I am aware that it is shaped out of clay, fired in an oven, polished and painted to give me the comfort of storing water. Let me do a thought experiment. I want to travel back in time, to the irrational perplexity of my earliest ancestor. I forget the history of water jugs, chemical composition of clay, structure of atoms, and along with it every bit of knowledge that makes me a civilized human being. I stare at the jug through the emptiness of my mind. Isolated in pre-historic vacuum, far away from the origin of languages, my mind has lost its words. Universe is confined to this remarkably colored object and myself. How do I describe my experience? What is this thing I am staring at? I concentrate on its shape and color, hesitantly stretching hand to explore. I tremble at the feeling of contact with this strange object and withdraw, only to try again and again. What are the secrets of this jug’s being? I don’t know. Words have flown off, leaving only a smothering vacuum. I do not know how to express my perplexity. What exactly is the thing known to my civilized contemporaries as a jug? What is left in a jug if I empty it of all the ideas and associations that have got into it in the past ten thousand years? I am confronting the puzzle that haunted generations of primitive humans – the task of describing the thing-in-itself.

Our ancestors at the dawn of awareness encountered a puzzling world. This puzzle was partially solved with the invention of language. Emerging human rationality found that the easiest way to deal with a mystery is to cover it up. Early man attempted to tame the unknowable thing-in-itself by giving it a name. Act of naming is the most basic form of objective knowing. Names are objective entities for the group of people who share this knowledge. The wild, fearful thing that pounces on the hunter became an objective fact after it was named ‘qxzitlntol’ – something that can be spoken of and acted against. Real objects are mysterious and unknowable. Knowing is an act of de-mystification, a practical trick of concealing the strangeness of unknowns behind a veil called knowledge.

Who does this covering up? We can identify an agent, a part of ourselves with the task of exploring and covering up the mystery of things. Let us call this agent ‘demystifier’. Let us dump words such as consciousness, awareness and rationality into this black box. ‘Demystifier’ is functionally similar to other sense organs such as the eye or ear. We can possibly open up this black box and explore its contents later, after we are convinced about its reality and function.

We are not cooking up something mysterious here. There was a point in time, not far from the appearance of human species in the history of evolution, when objective knowledge did not exist. Contrast this situation with the present. What happened between these two points of time? We are looking for natural explanations and it is sensible to view objective knowledge as the output of an organ, similar to other sense organs we are endowed with. We do not know anything about the structure or mechanism of this sense organ at this point. It is a black box, definable in terms of its output, which is indeed real. Thus ‘demystifier’ is simply a label attached to a new function that evolved in human beings, possibly over few hundred thousand years. It evolved as the ‘organ of knowing’, just as eyes evolved as the ‘organ of seeing’.

Karl Popper(1) compares objective knowledge to organs outside our skins ‘I suggest that we may look upon these myths, these ideas and theories, as some of the most characteristic products of human activity. Like tools, they are organs evolving outside our skins. They are exosomatic artifacts. Thus we may count among these characteristic products especially what is called ‘human knowledge’; where we take the word ‘knowledge’ in the objective or impersonal sense, in which it may be said to be contained in a book; or stored in a library; or taught in a university’. It may be useful to imagine the evolution of a super-organ or meta-tool with the function of producing knowledge, which are tools themselves.

Demystification proceeded in stages. Man mastered the trick of naming and extinguished the mystery of reality by naming everything around. Noun forms thus conceived were tied up at various levels of interrelationship, resulting in complex language structures. Names were useful in shielding infant awareness from the threat of unknowing. It helped survival by making communication possible. The roots of our knowledge go back to the primitive fear that confronted earliest man facing a world of things-in-themselves.

Knower grew bolder with accumulated experience of many generations and ‘name covers’ were slowly lifted to take a fresh look at the mystery behind. The substance named ‘clay’ was found to be a mixture of chemical compounds A, B, C etc, which were in turn smaller packets of mystery. Early science thrived on the identification of such constituent parts and patterns of their interaction. Unknowability was pushed back by another step. Subsequent stages of demystification have produced fruitful branches in the tree of science – Atomic physics and Quantum mechanics.

It is amazing that beautiful patterns emerge from such ‘externalized knowledge’. That tells something about the nature of reality and its relation with the knower. Why is nature comprehensible to human observers? We should first gain some insight into the nature of the ‘demystifier’ before this all-important question can be explored.

We know that our eyes have a limited range. There are real things that would remain forever invisible to the naked eye. Is it likely that nature has properties that would remain forever beyond the ‘demystifier’? Such a conclusion appears reasonable if we accept the knower as a product of biological evolution. We are forever attempting to hold the unknowable thing-in-itself by grasping it with our tool of objective knowing. We detect newer patterns with every attempt, adding another layer to our interpretation of reality.

What exactly is going on? Unknowability goes into hiding behind the growing façade of certainty. Man has built his majestic edifice of knowledge on the foundation of a terrifying mystery. Our ancestors were aware of this fundamental ignorance. It was their wisdom, a legacy that modern man has disclaimed.

1.      Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, 1972

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