The Other I

January 21, 2009

Does hope make a difference?

Filed under: Just Stuff,Political thoughts — theotheri @ 9:11 pm
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There is a great unresolved conundrum in science, and yesterday’s inauguration and the energy it generated illustrated it.

The conundrum is what we psychologists call “the mind-body problem.”  Basically, the unsolved problem is how our conscious experiences – like the hope, joy and exuberance yesterday, or fear, confusion, hatred, puzzlement, love, or understanding – are related to the biochemistry of our brains.

Hang on, this really becomes a fascinating problem that goes right to the heart of what we are doing on this planet in this universe.  Because people who try to answer the mind-body question do so by taking one of three positions:

  • In the first position, there are two worlds – one physical and one spiritual.  Plato made this position popular among the Greeks, and it was adopted by Christianity.  In this view, the conscious part of ourselves is a product of a spirit, or if you prefer, a soul.  When we die, the soul leaves the body, and so the body is no longer the medium through which the spirit operates and is manifest.   But the soul continues to live outside the physical world.
  • A second position dismisses conscious experience as an epi-phenomenon.  Like a shadow, consciousness isn’t real in itself but is merely a reflection of our physical selves.  So when our bodies die, consciousness is no longer possible, and is snuffed out with death.  This is a reductionist view.
  • The third position is that there is one natural world, and consciousness, which is real, is part of it.  Consciousness can and does influence what we do, and how we feel.  It is effected by our biochemistry, but in turn can also change our physical condition.  As we saw yesterday, our consciousness can be effected by events thousands, even millions, of miles away.  And that change in consciousness can change not only our feelings but our behavior.

I belong in this last category.  It still doesn’t answer the question of how mind and body are related, but it does put the problem squarely in the lap of science.

When you think about it, it’s almost the same question that asks how life and inert matter are related.  How did life emerge from non-living things?  We don’t know.

But until Einstein developed his theory of relativity, science thought that matter and energy must be two different things that shaped the universe.  Einstein showed that they were two different versions of the same thing.

I think some day some great mind may be able to unite body and mind the way Einstein united matter and energy.  In the meantime, nothing will convince me that hope and ideas and belief in what we can do can’t change the world.

Now I must return to painting the living room walls.  Somehow, despite my faith in the importance of thought and feeling,  I suspect sitting here and hoping won’t do the trick.

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