Thoughts on Consciousness

“I think therefore I am” is a famous saying. It would have been better, I think, to say, “I am therefore I think.” The reason for this is that I am going to consider two levels of consciousness. I will begin with a very basic definition that applies to everything that has sentient life. All these forms of life have the ability to react to their internal functions and external environments and then act appropriately. As animal life forms became more complex their consciousness increased to match their growing ability to perform various functions. Up until the creation of humans all consciousness was a biochemical-electromagnetic phenomena.

We are told of the coming of a different level of consciousness in Genesis 1:27 where we are told that God created humans in his own image. There is a difficulty here. What is meant by image? It cannot be anything physical about humans. At the time of human creation God had not taken on any physical characteristics. The three persons of the Trinity were pure spirits and people he created were formed from the dust of the earth. How could we and God share any common image? It must be that God added to the biochemical-electromagnetic consciousness that all animals have. This addition must have been portions of his infinite consciousness.

For these two levels to work together God’s consciousness must be compatible with that of humans. I think I can show they seamlessly fit together by pointing you to the person of Jesus Christ. He had a human consciousness and a fully divine consciousness but there no evident separation when he performed miracles. He would be talking to people, do a supernatural act, and then continue to talk as if nothing spectacular had happened. When he did pray before a miracle it was not that he needed to but that he needed to show people he was one with his Father.

Our two levels of consciousness make it possible for us to think and experience on both physical and spiritual levels. Since neither science nor theology have complete understandings of either level, I think we should just be thankful for what we have and be glad that God shared enough from his infinite consciousness so that we could come to know him and believe in his Son.

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What I Believe: Creation

Creation is a very complex subject. I believe God did create the heavens and the earth (and everything else) but not in six twenty-four hour days. I think creation required a long line of incremental steps and also time for created objects to mature to the state needed to make the earth suitable for human habitation. Genesis 1:1 to Genesis 2:3 tells us of God setting the stage for the story. It should not be over-interpreted as a description of all of creation. It is after all a rather short poem and I believe that it, like most poetry, cannot be interpreted literally. That said, there are two significant aspects of it. One is that everything physical in it is real and we have either experienced them or know about them. This led Isaac Newton to think that the passage was a description of end points of God’s creative actions. The second aspect is more subtle. I believe that breaking up the account of creation into days reflects the reality of the world we know coming into existence by stages.

 

This does not mean that I believe in evolution in any way, shape or form. Éttienne Gilson, a French philosopher, wrote in 1975, “Evolution is bad science and worse philosophy.” Since then, the science of evolution has gotten worse due to the vast increase of knowledge in the field of microbiology and the ideology of evolution has gone down several different paths.

 

The evolutionists have one thing, I think, that keeps them in the arena of evolutionist/creationist controversy. That is that life on earth has a long history. This is true even if some of the past and present scientific ideas about the age of the earth and how we got to the present will probably end up some day on a “blooper reel.”

 

We are told many times in Scripture about God’s propensity for creation What we are not told is how he does it.

Let’s Hear a Cheer for Metaphysics

The rather immodest aim of metaphysics is the comprehension and unification of all understanding. However, we have passed the point where any one mind or even any one system can encompass all of our expanding knowledge of the wonders surrounding us. Nevertheless, there is something from metaphysics we need to retain and this is its search for the reality underlying all appearances. It was the goal and the hope of the metaphysician to find a unifying concept of reality that would invest all things with value. Today we lack a recognized and agreed upon set of values and therefore we need the return of the metaphysical ideal.

Some time ago metaphysical studies were divided, and by the division reduced, into theology, philosophy and science. Contemporary theology is chaos, and even if it were not most of it is unrecognized and unheeded in a secular world. Philosophy, instead of studying our minds, studies words and what is left of the noble pursuit is mostly historical studies of past philosophers and critiques of their systems. As for science as a guide for humanity, the magic has mostly departed. Few think today that science is the road to peace and prosperity. Science is good with facts but poor about values.

Politics, the art and practice of government, has much to do with facts, but its ultimate choices have to do with values. And it is in making choices that our political system is floundering. A quick contrast can be made between the current politician, who tends to obtain his or her value system from public opinion polls, and the founders of our country.

The politicians then generally believed in a transcendent deity who was the source of political values and human dignity, and who was the judge of their actions. The judge of contemporary politicians is the election. And their highest aim is reelection.

This decay in the political value system is not the entire fault of the politicians. It is the result of a declining metaphysic. Instead of a nation with a common set of shared values, our culture has allowed values to become so privatized that it is impossible to reach anything approaching a consensus on any given issue. In fact, many people would argue against the possibility or even the desirability of a shared value system.

Governing, though, is an exercise in reality. Real choices have real consequences in real lives. Political actions based either on wishful thinking, or arbitrary or non-existent values, will in the end be destructive. What we need is a politics based on reality. And knowledge of reality comes from a search for truth. And the search for truth leads us back to metaphysics. Therefore, let’s hear a cheer for metaphysics.

What If Everything Is Quantum

When I use the word “quantum” I am not thinking of the miniscule aspects of quantum physics but of how it reveals a very “squirrelly” physical reality. I will start with a quite old, in physics, illustration of this.

The physicist Erwin Schrödinger in 1935 created a famous thought experiment to illustrate the strangeness of quantum mechanics. The experiment involves a cat placed in a box, in a way it cannot be observed, along with a radiation source and a vial of poison. The radiation source has a 50% probability of emitting a particle during the time of the experiment. If it does emit a particle, the vial is broken and the cat dies. The emission or the non-emission of the radioactive particle represents potentialities for the cat. But the actuality of what happens to the cat cannot be determined until the event occurs and the state of the cat is observed.

The point of Schrödinger’s illustration was that the cat was in a state of quantum superposition, simultaneously dead and alive during the experiment, until the box is opened and the cat observed. At this point the cat is either dead or alive and thus back to being a part of the world we live in. It has not been noted by anyone I have read who described the experiment that it could have been an actual experiment. The only reason for it being a thought experiment is not to put a cat at risk just to illustrate a physical principle.

Superposition is a hard concept to grasp but what if it is the key to understanding all of physical reality. Let me explain my idea by presenting analogies to the objects in Schrödinger’s experiment. Think of the cat as any object, from the smallest subatomic particle to the universe itself. The radiation source and the vial represent the potentialities for the future state of the object. The object as it is seen when the box is opened is the extent of our available knowledge of physical events. The box represents the inability we have of knowing both the future outcomes and the available potentialities regarding all physical existence.

Schrödinger could have added other possible outcomes to his experiment. A mouse could have been released into the box or the cat could have been provided with food, water and kitty litter for a kinder, gentler outcome. The point here is that the potentialities in regard to a given event are always suited to the nature of the object but it cannot be known regarding any occurrence that the potentialities include all possible outcomes.

Where does this get us in regard to what happens in all of physical reality? If all of physical existence is the result of the actualization of potentialities, then we have to concede that if there could be something that controls the available potentialities then the physical reality we experience is the result of the generation and control of the potentialities available for any given event. This idea I have of everything being quantum invokes the principle of superposition developed by quantum physics and extends it to all events. What happens in Schrödinger’s box is unknowable until an event is observed. This uncertainty is not a lack of knowledge of potentialities that will someday be overcome by an advance in scientific knowledge. It is inherent in physical reality.

This idea of quantum everything is not a version of the God of the Gaps idea proposed by some Christians. It suggests that there is an uncertainty in our knowledge of physical events that is, to use a technical term, invincible.

To illustrate this let me turn to the world of sports. This is a good place to look for uncertainty because the essence of sports is uncertainty of outcome. There is an important figure, Chris Berman, at ESPN who does a swami routine to pick the weekly winners of NFL games. The funny part of it is not his shtick but that you or I could do as well in selecting winners by flipping a coin. This is not to say that the outcomes are random but that there are a large number of variables involved. Materialists would claim that the problem is lack of sufficient data and may think that in the era of Big Data the problem can be solved. This thinking brings in two levels of belief. One is that all the data can be known and properly used to arrive at knowledge of a certain outcome of a particular game, and two is that there are no relevant variables outside their knowledge. The reason this thinking involves faith is that Schrödinger’s box is opaque. What potentialities are in the box and what will certainly happen as a result of these potentialities are, scientifically, I think, unknowable.

It would be belaboring my point to go through every type of occurrence, not only physical but historical, economic, cultural and so forth, and show they all look quantum. It is remarkable that in their quest to get to the bottom of physical reality quantum physicists have become, as some will admit, philosophers. It may be even worse than that. I think string theory and M theory, and the mathematical need for 11 dimensions, has led physicists in the direction of becoming metaphysicists. This is dangerous ground for materialists because it brings them closer than many of them would like to theology.

Science can study the potentialities, although their origins are unknown, and their totality (for example dark energy and dark matter) still not established. Science can observe the actualizations that come out of the box. However, what is in the box and what occurs there must remain a mystery as far as scientific understanding is concerned. Thus it is not unreasonable or irrational to think there is a place in the box for God to act to accomplish his purposes for the universe he created by controlling the potentialities in the box. I think most times these potentialities consist of natural laws and probabilities. However, we cannot show whether this is always the case.

We are comfortable when we see a purpose to our lives and a solid connection between cause and effect but these do not always accurately describe our experience of life. The human condition, just like all the rest of physical reality, is far more complex than we can possibly understand. The quantum idea of everything, though, allows us to pursue science to its utmost limits while at the same time giving those who chose it a confidence in a higher reality—a divine reality beyond our understanding.