Document status: May 22, 2003

No further action needed for Journey in Being

Maintained out of interest

From - Mon Sep 06 01:28:27 1999
From: “Anil Mitra, Ph. D.”
Reply-To: anilmitra@horizons-2000.org
Subject: Reply to your question[s]

Hi Michael

Your message raised two questions. I have spent some time over the years thinking about some version of the questions and do not have any definite “answers”. Both questions have been debated hotly among scientists and others and one of them, the question concerning consciousness, is a current issue upon which there is no agreement in the literature that I have read

The question of the possibility of conscious robots has received considerable attention without anything like final resolution. The fundamental question is the one of how consciousness arises in the brain, which on the usual scientific view is made up of “material” particles that are not themselves conscious. There is no agreement or anything like a final answer here. Some writers think the origin of consciousness in the brain to be beyond human powers of explanation. Others think that some fundamentally new element will be introduced - a physical entity or perhaps something that we do not yet know, something neither fully physical nor fully mental. And there is a group of researchers who think that the resolution of the problem of consciousness will come from putting together the solutions to many sub-problems such as the problem of vision which itself would receive resolution through sub-sub-problems; of this last class there are some who hold that the “fundamental question” is really a non-question and, at best, a waste of time

Here is my personal view on evolution and the theory [theories?] of evolution. Whereas Newton’s law can be tested in micro, small [laboratories], medium [atmosphere] and large [solar systems] scales that is not possible for evolution. Disregarding genetics the micro scale is out and the evidence at medium scales is minimal. The main evidence for evolution would come from time scales that are “large.” But that scale is not directly available to us. All the evidence that is available is available here and now. We can look at a fossil only in the present and assigning to it a place in an evolutionary sequence is somewhat hypothetical. Evolutionary theory can predict some things but they are not like the predictions of dynamics. Just recently there was an article that whales and the hippopotamus are more closely related to each other than to any other species. It was based on the comparison of gene sequences and on the idea that more similar means a more recent common ancestor. But that kind of prediction could be made without the evolutionary hypothesis, which is an intermediate surrogate step. There has been debate on this kind of issue and what I just said is simple and somewhat one sided. A good source for the complexity of the issues is Ernst Mayr, Toward a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist, 1988. Mayr has some somewhat chauvinist tendencies [biology is the supreme science according to Mayr] but I do admire his writing and thought. Anyway I’m making a short story long and the main point is that I have agreement with your suggestion that Evolutionary Biology does not do much for concrete research in biology. In so far as appeal is made to evolutionary explanation, evolution appears as a shorthand for something that is more immediate and present. I really do not know enough about biology, although I’ve read quite a bit, to know precisely how useful that shorthand may be. Frequently, in conceptual thought, the introduction of a concept or conceptual system makes accessible what was previously intractable. An additional consideration is whether evolutionary explanation constitutes causal explanation. That is, are the connections between the elements of explanation “real” rather than being merely correlative relations? I value the theory of evolution, I enjoy it, it makes sense to me but it cannot attain the universality of mechanics because its sphere of application is relatively limited and the domain of observation is further limited. The same, I think, is true of any human attempt to understand/explain the place of our immediate world in a larger scheme of things. If our consciousness were to persist or recur and if the form of that recurrence were on a larger scale so that we could see on a larger scale what we can currently only imagine or conceive, then we could have direct evidence for/against evolution on its own scale. I have thought on these points and one of the objectives of my trips into the mountains is to see if I can actually see more. So far I have not seen anything with my senses and I rather doubt that I will but lets see Meanwhile there is also the question [currently not in vogue] raised in philosophy and by the authors of the Upanishads as to what it means to see: is there a role to conception as perception, and is there an inner vision that reveals an identity of the “inner” and outer or physical universes? Some questions now arise. But it seems clear that a science of evolution and a science of mechanics rest on different foundations

What are we to do? It is not necessary to do anything. Lots of people today have no commitment to any view beyond the immediate. Perhaps, however, one wants to enter into that arena. Some scientists argue that the slow and steady way of science is the way. But it may be that proper attention to “destiny” requires more than that. Right there is ambivalence #1: to commit or not to commit. And commitment requires imagination or revelation because there must be something to which to commit. Then the next choice - if committed to commitment - is the question of the larger or ultimate scheme of things. To which one will one commit – one that is available… or will one search for a new one?

I do believe that, despite, the evidence for evolutionary theory being narrower in base than that for physical science - and this is natural rather than a criticism of evolutionary theory - it is, within its realm, a causal system of explanation and introduces causal and explanatory simplification. There is ongoing work on evolution in spheres other than biology: the physical origins of “the” universe, the evolution of consciousness and of social organization. At the same time human being may also be in evolution and in the end we may have see some new forms of evolutionary explanation and synthesis and new ways of seeing

I think I quoted Karl Popper in my essay. Popper said that, in science, our theories die for us. We do not need to fight a war for Newtonian Mechanics; experiments help us select the current form of mechanics. Perhaps, however, in the case of evolution and its alternatives, the choice involves a degree of commitment. If we live in an age when we no longer actively die for our ideas [some people still do] it may be the best thing to put one’s life into one’s beliefs. This would not have to be a mere commitment: thinking and experimenting would be a partial but not a completed guide

That’s much more than I intended to write and I don’t know if I’ve made any sense

It’s close to 2 AM. I’m tired. So no I will not indulge in small talk. I do hope you and your family are doing well

Take Care

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Philosophy of Mind