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Minds and Brains

Falsification and the Myth of Science

On both the question of the mind-body problem and criticism of Darwinism, scientism is in direct violation of the sacred principles of scientific enquiry that are routinely trotted out to bash dualists, creationists and intelligent design theorists. Scientific theories are ones that are capable of “falsification.” They can be checked against the facts, and if the facts do not fit, then the theory gets tossed ruthlessly into the trash. Theories that cannot be potentially falsified in this manner are by their nature unscientific (not necessarily false, just unscientific).

When creationists claim that God “planted” evidence of evolution in order to test the faith of His flock, they are protecting their theory against falsification. Whatever you may think of that idea, you cannot really prove that it is false. Unscientific theories cannot be proved wrong; scientific theories can be. And science fearlessly strives to prove its theories are wrong; only those that withstand the constant barrage of factual testing are ensconced in the canon; only those are deemed to be “scientific truth.” That is the central tenet of the scientific myth.

Science does not really work that way and, as Thomas Kuhn demonstrated in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, almost assuredly could not work that way. If it tried, it would get nowhere. Most theories cannot be simply dismissed by the existence of a single, damning fact, as T. H. Huxley is supposed to have said. There is usually the possibility that the facts which appear to violate the theory are aberrations caused by extraneous factors.

The fact that a feather and a cannon ball do not fall at the same rate does not “falsify” Galileo's dictum that gravity accelerates all objects at the same rate. The difference, as every high school science student knows, is caused by the different effect of air pressure on the two objects. When the critics of Darwinism point to biological structures that cannot be explained solely by natural selection, the Darwinists reply, in essence, that they are sure that one day the explanation will be found. And perhaps they are right. If they thought the way the mythical scientist thinks, they would also admit that perhaps they are wrong. They do not do that.

But in the case of our theory of an exclusively mechanistic universe confronted with the fact of consciousness, we actually have a wonderful example of a theory unequivocally falsified by a single fact. What a marvelous triumph of the glorious scientific method! Except that the scientists ignore it entirely. Consciousness falsifies the mechanistic theory because no extraneous factors are possible. An exclusively mechanistic cosmos banishes consciousness by definition.

What do the mechanistic scientists do when confronted by the falsifying fact of awareness? Do they boldly and ruthlessly abandon their now falsified theory? Of course not. They do realize however that they have here an exceptionally knotty conundrum. They cannot really explain consciousness mechanically, but they are incapable of conceding that. They use a variety of rhetorical tricks, verbal sleights-of-hand, to distract one from their failure to actually explain consciousness. They re-define it in mechanistic terms: e.g., “consciousness is the electrochemical activity of the cerebral cortex.” They might even deny that consciousness exists, but they are then quick to add something like “of course higher organisms do have experiences.” “Experience”? What is that? It does not take much reflection to see that it is just another name for what we call awareness— consciousness.

Here is a clear instance of the lust for certain knowledge blinding us to the obvious—and preventing us from expanding our understanding of ourselves and the world. The dogmatic insistence that scientific theories presently have the capability of explaining the mind precludes our ever really understanding mental activity. It keeps us from studying the mind on its own terms. We have become like the drunk in the old story who staggers home one night, drops his latch key on the stoop as he fumbles to open his door, and then walks a half block down the street to start searching under the lamppost. When an observer asks why he is looking here for the key he dropped twenty yards away, he explains: “The light is better here!”

We will never find the key to conscious awareness if we continue look for it exclusively in the light of chemistry and electricity. That is not to say that chemistry and electricity are not involved. People who point out the deficiency of the mechanist view of the mind are invariably and derisively called “dualists,” just as those who call attention to the failures of Darwinism are always labeled “creationists.” What I am suggesting here is not dualism, which is the doctrine that mind and matter are two entirely distinct and different things. But dualism cannot be banished merely by imeriously declaring that mind is really matter.

To lunatics like myself—those of us who lack comforting boxtops that show sane people what the truth will surely look like when it is found—the picture looks very murky. While there are good reasons for not believing in dualism, we really do not know enough about the real nature of the mind to say for sure that it is not true.

We lunatics imagine that if mind and matter are to be shown as being ultimately either the same thing or different manifestations of the same thing, then somehow the properties of both must be accounted for. We must analyze mind as well as matter. So far, the mechanists just refuse to do this. There is nothing in the picture on their boxtop that looks remotely like mind, so they cannot bring themselves to admit that it exists.

[Next Page: Is the Universe Devoid of Purpose?]