by Deepak Chopra and Pankaj S. Joshi
May 01, 2017
Although it takes place outside the headlines, even those that deal
with science, a heated debate is occurring about mind and matter.
On one side is a
camp of so-called physicalists, formerly known as
materialists, who hold fast to the assumption that any and
all phenomena in nature can be reduced to physical
processes, namely the forces and the interaction between
objects (atoms, subatomic or elementary particles, etc.) -
these are the building blocks of the universe.
On the other side
is no single camp but a mixed assortment of skeptics who
hold that at least one natural phenomenon - the human mind -
cannot be explained physically through such methods.
When one explanation (the
physicalist) is supported by the weight of highly successful
theories in physics, biology, biochemistry, and neuroscience, and
the other side has no accepted theory on its side, the debate seems
But in David versus
Goliath battles, be careful of rooting for Goliath.
The possibility of a
science of consciousness, which would involve a thorough
explanation of mind and how it relates to matter, can't begin until
the obstacles in its path are removed and old accepted assumptions
That has already begun, on all fronts.
In physics, the essential
problem of how something came out of nothing (i.e.,
the big bang
coming out of the quantum vacuum state) stymies cosmologists, while
at the microscopic level the same mystery, this time involving
subatomic particles, emerging from the virtual state, is equally
In biology the prevailing
Darwinism cannot explain the quantum leap made, with astonishing
rapidity, by Homo sapiens in terms of reasoning, creativity,
language, our use of concepts as opposed to instincts, tool-making,
and racial characteristics.
We are the offspring of
the newest part of the brain, the cerebral cortex, and yet there is
no causal connection between its evolution and the primal Darwinian
need to survive.
This is evident by the
survival of a hundred primate species lacking a higher brain,
reasoning, tool-making, concepts, etc.
Finally, in neuroscience
and biochemistry, there is zero connection between nerve cells, and
their chemical components, and mind. Unless someone can locate the
point in time when molecules learned to think, the current
assumption that the brain is doing the thinking has no solid
The day-to-day work of scientists isn't dependent on explaining how
mind arose in the cosmos - not yet. The relation between mind and
matter has existed in philosophy for centuries, and working
scientists don't consider philosophy relevant to their research.
Collecting data and doing
experiments needs no help from metaphysics or philosophy.
But when you look at the
unanswered questions in physics, biology, biochemistry, and
neuroscience, it's more than a coincidence that all, without
exception, impinge upon the same inability to know how consciousness
By taking for granted the
obvious fact that it takes a mind to do science, we've reached the
point where science is leaving out the very component that might
answer the questions that urgently need answering, not because
philosophy demands it but because science does.
The sticking point is physicalism itself. If everything must be
reduced to the smallest units of matter and energy, and yet there is
zero evidence that mind follows that pattern, it is unscientific to
cling to physicalism.
Even a staunchly
mainstream physicist like Stephen Hawking has commented that reality
doesn't necessarily match the current models in science. The mind is
real, and since that's true, defective models are required to change
or even be thrown out.
To repair the most
glaring defect of all - our inability to explain mind - imperils all
the sciences for the simple fact that science is a mental activity.
If we set physicalism
aside, what would be another starting point for a new model of
Instead of conceiving reality from the bottom up, moving from tiny
building blocks to larger and larger structures, one could do the
reverse and create a top-down model. In other words, the starting
point would be the whole, not the parts.
So what do we know
reality as a whole?
Reality is knowable through the mind. What humans can't know, either
directly or by inference, might as well not exist. What we know is tied to what we experience.
Experience takes place in consciousness, nowhere else.
Experience is at once boundless and very restricted. The boundless
part lies in the human capacity to create, invent, explore,
discover, and imagine.
The restricted part revolves around the setup
of the brain, which is confined to the behavior of space, time,
matter, and energy.
The brain is
four-dimensional, while physics poses the possibility of infinite
dimensions at one extreme and zero dimensions at the other extreme.
Because the physical processing done by the brain works in parallel
to the mind doesn't mean that the brain is the mind.
To assert that
brain equals mind involves showing the atoms and molecules can
think, which can't be proven and seems highly unlikely.
Therefore, the ground
state of reality, the place from which everything originates, is
Consciousness is the only constant in human
experience that can't be removed from consideration in science, or
any other form of knowing.
What we call reality "out
there" is constructed in our own awareness.
These constructs follow
predictable paths according to mathematics, logic, the laws of
nature, and so on. But this doesn't prove that reality is
independent of our experience, only that consciousness is capable of
extremely precise, predictable organization.
In a word, the notion
that everything is a mental construct is just as valid as the notion
that everything is a physical construct. The two are merely
If reality "out there" is a construct dependent upon consciousness,
explaining the universe entails explaining consciousness. Where physicalists are
stymied by how atoms and molecules think, non-physicalists are
stymied by how mind creates matter.
This impasse is broken by taking a concrete approach to mind; that
is, by investigating the qualities of reality "out there."
qualities, such as how an object looks, sounds, feels, tastes, and
smells, are entirely created in consciousness. As Heisenberg
noted almost a century ago, there are no fixed physical
characteristics of an atom or subatomic particle.
built up from the qualities, also known as
qualia, that the
human mind knows, experiences, and can conceptualize.
Ultimately, even where nature sucks or emits all matter and energy
into or out of
black holes and naked singularities, either through
classical or quantum physics, the actual horizon for science doesn't
lie there, or with the big bang, by which matter and energy
reappeared in manifest form.
The real horizon is where
the inconceivable source of mind meets the conceivable phenomena in
nature. The problem of something coming out of nothing is exactly
the same when the cosmos was born as when a thought is born.
This is the level playing
field where mind and matter can be investigated as two sides of the
consciousness interacting with itself...