Skip to comments.Learning is a ubiquitous, mysterious phenomenon
Posted on 09/06/2017 4:23:06 PM PDT by ETL
Its no surprise I ended up this way. My parents were public school teachers. They instilled in me the belief that education not only opens up new opportunities but also is enjoyable in itself. My parents regularly took my siblings and me to museums, encouraged us to read widely and entertained our incessant whys? and hows? And though neither of my parents taught science, I remember studying constellations at night and experimenting with chemistry at the dining table. (My parents passed their passion for educating on to my younger brother and sister. One teaches math, the other biology and chemistry.)
Perhaps its fitting, then, that as a new school year begins, I get to introduce Science News special report on learning. Or maybe not. After all, learning is something we all do. I share a newsroom with reporters and editors who also get a big kick out of learning every day. In truth, a love of learning is probably quite common. From birth, we learn to recognize faces, to talk, to walk. We take the clues thrown at our senses and piece together an understanding of our world. Yes, we learn the three Rs in school, but we also learn (in and out of the classroom) how to build relationships, how to handle stress and what makes us happy. Im currently learning how to prune my rosebush to get a great fall bloom, what makes an effective leader and the details of various cryptocurrencies. Theres an adage, occasionally attributed to Albert Einstein, that says something like: The day you stop learning is the day you start dying. That seems about right to me.
And yet learning, such a natural and lifelong process, is a mystery. How does the brain starting nearly from scratch, or at least seemingly so synthesize inputs into new knowledge? How is that knowledge retained and called on? How does it drive behavior? What is the relationship between learning and memory, learning and intelligence, learning and consciousness? There are so many grand questions, and scientists are just scratching the surface.
Advances in neuroscience have allowed researchers to closely watch single nerve cells firing in learning brains, but a deeper understanding of the process might require zooming out to see what goes on between groups of brain cells, Laura Sanders reports. People who learn with ease might be better at abandoning brain connections and forming new ones, she finds. Susan Gaidos investigates strategies to boost learning that have showed success in labs. Efforts are now under way to test some of these approaches in real-world classrooms.
Though we havent cracked the secrets of superb learning yet, we are good sometimes too good at training machines to do something that looks like human learning. Maria Temming covers a recent problem in artificial intelligence: By training on sample data, machines can pick up human biases. Researchers are seeking ways to avoid the problem; the trouble is that these machines are largely black boxes.
The same might still be said about human brains, but Im not discouraged. It just means theres plenty more to learn.
Peer inside the brain of someone learning. You might be lucky enough to spy a synapse pop into existence. That physical bridge between two nerve cells seals new knowledge into the brain. As new information arrives, synapses form and strengthen, while others weaken, making way for new connections.
You might see more subtle changes, too, like fluctuations in the levels of signaling molecules, or even slight boosts in nerve cell activity. Over the last few decades, scientists have zoomed in on these microscopic changes that happen as the brain learns. And while that detailed scrutiny has revealed a lot about the synapses that wire our brains, it isnt enough. Neuroscientists still lack a complete picture of how the brain learns.
They may have been looking too closely. When it comes to the neuroscience of learning, zeroing in on synapse action misses the forest for the trees.
A new, zoomed-out approach attempts to make sense of the large-scale changes that enable learning. By studying the shifting interactions between many different brain regions over time, scientists are beginning to grasp how the brain takes in new information and holds onto it.
These kinds of studies rely on powerful math. Brain scientists are co-opting approaches developed in other network-based sciences, borrowing tools that reveal in precise, numerical terms the shape and function of the neural pathways that shift as human brains learn.
When youre learning, it doesnt just require a change in activity in a single region, says Danielle Bassett, a network neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania. It really requires many different regions to be involved. Her holistic approach asks, whats actually happening in your brain while youre learning? Bassett is charging ahead to both define this new field of network neuroscience and push its boundaries.
This line of work is very promising, says neuroscientist Olaf Sporns of Indiana University Bloomington. Bassetts research, he says, has great potential to bridge gaps between brain-imaging studies and scientists understanding of how learning happens. I think shes very much on the right track.
Already, Bassett and others have found tantalizing hints that the brains that learn best have networks that are flexible, able to rejigger connections on the fly to allow new knowledge in. Some brain regions always communicate with the same neural partners, rarely switching to others. But brain regions that exhibit the most flexibility quickly swap who theyre talking with, like a parent who sends a birthday party invite to the preschool e-mail list, then moments later, shoots off a work memo to colleagues.
In a few studies, researchers have witnessed this flexibility in action, watching networks reconfigure as people learn something while inside a brain scanner. Network flexibility may help several types of learning, though too much flexibility may be linked to disorders such as schizophrenia, studies suggest.
Not surprisingly, some researchers are rushing to apply this new information, testing ways to boost brain flexibility for those of us who may be too rigid in our neural connections.
These are pretty new ideas, says cognitive neuroscientist Raphael Gerraty of Columbia University. The mathematical and computational tools required for this type of research didnt exist until recently, he says. So people just werent thinking about learning from a large-scale network perspective. In some ways, it was a pretty boring mathematical, computational roadblock, Gerraty says. But now the road is clear, opening this conceptual avenue that people can now explore. ..."
More at link
The brain and spinal cord are made up of many cells, including neurons and glial cells. Neurons are cells that send and receive electro-chemical signals to and from the brain and nervous system. There are about 100 billion neurons in the brain. There are many more glial cells; they provide support functions for the neurons, and are far more numerous than neurons.
There are many type of neurons. They vary in size from 4 microns (.004 mm) to 100 microns (.1 mm) in diameter. Their length varies from a fraction of an inch to several feet.
Neurons are nerve cells that transmit nerve signals to and from the brain at up to 200 mph. The neuron consists of a cell body (or soma) with branching dendrites (signal receivers) and a projection called an axon, which conduct the nerve signal. At the other end of the axon, the axon terminals transmit the electro-chemical signal across a synapse (the gap between the axon terminal and the receiving cell). The word "neuron" was coined by the German scientist Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried von Waldeyer-Hartz in 1891 (he also coined the term "chromosome").
The axon, a long extension of a nerve cell, and take information away from the cell body. Bundles of axons are known as nerves or, within the CNS (central nervous system), as nerve tracts or pathways. Dendrites bring information to the cell body.
Myelin coats and insulates the axon (except for periodic breaks called nodes of Ranvier), increasing transmission speed along the axon. Myelin is manufactured by Schwann's cells, and consists of 70-80% lipids (fat) and 20-30% protein.
The cell body (soma) contains the neuron's nucleus (with DNA and typical nuclear organelles). Dendrites branch from the cell body and receive messages.
A typical neuron has about 1,000 to 10,000 synapses (that is, it communicates with 1,000-10,000 other neurons, muscle cells, glands, etc.).
DIFFERENT TYPES OF NEURONS
There are different types of neurons. They all carry electro-chemical nerve signals, but differ in structure (the number of processes, or axons, emanating from the cell body) and are found in different parts of the body.
LIFE SPAN OF NEURONS
Unlike most other cells, neurons cannot regrow after damage (except neurons from the hippocampus). Fortunately, there are about 100 billion neurons in the brain.
Glial cells make up 90 percent of the brain's cells. Glial cells are nerve cells that don't carry nerve impulses. The various glial (meaning "glue") cells perform many important functions, including: digestion of parts of dead neurons, manufacturing myelin for neurons, providing physical and nutritional support for neurons, and more. Types of glial cells include Schwann's Cells, Satellite Cells, Microglia, Oligodendroglia, and Astroglia.
Neuroglia (meaning "nerve glue") are the another type of brain cell. These cells guide neurons during fetal development.
Wonderful topic. Thank you for posting it.
I have strived to learn something new every day—otherwise, I believe the day has been wasted.
You’re welcome. I’ve been fascinated with the topic of the brain and consciousness every since I first learned about atoms in chemistry class. I wondered how is that such seemingly simple notions as “positive” and “negative” could be at the heart of who and what we are, how we are alive in the first place, how we think and remember.
Because that is basically all that atoms are: a collection of positively charged ‘protons’, negatively charged ‘electrons’, neutral ‘neurons’, and ‘photons’(energy). How does it all come together to make us, us? Or any number of other things we see around us, including, puzzling enough, dopey liberals.
What about the topic of “learning how to learn”?
This is quite different from naming the many structures which we believe, at this time, to comprise the mechanics, if you will, of learning. The article you posted kind of details how this process is supposed occur. But, this is like looking at a car (assume engine in front, driveshaft, rear wheel drive) and saying “OK, to make this go, we need a rotating shaft with some power behind it; we need a means of changing the directional rotation from longitudinally to laterally, we need a way to be able to go around corners, and etc; etc;
When I was growing up I had the ability to rapidly grasp ideas and concepts...up to a point. And that got me through high school. And of course, since I got good grades, nobody ever thought there was any issue. But I never really learned how to learn and had a terrible time in college.
I still have that problem today. I can watch a webinar and watch it again and study the materials...and walk away with flaming nothing. It can be very frustrating. It’s not taught, how to learn.
I broke the code on the functional capabilities. That is the most useful for advanced unmanned vehicles.
I have experience the effect of myelin sheath several times. The first couple of times there is a significant time dilation. Once was during an accident where my body stopped and my expensive sunglasses continued at 70 mph. I was able to snatch them out of the air before they hit the windshield.
Logic is a learned response. I haven’t had the time to figure that one out yet.
All the millions spent on fancy new laptops (which the students then either destroy or steal), fancy new software (to be substituted for classroom learning in a ruse to give fake credits to graduate), unproved "progressive" teaching protocols forced on teachers, etc. won't amount to a hill of beans. Might as well burn the money for all the "learning" it will result in.
And lifelong learners, as some of you posted you are (me, too, BTW)? Fuhgeddaboutit. These students are not "getting it" as far as how learning takes place and what fun it can be. They see it as an interruption to their day of playing with their cell phones, looking at high dollar sneakers on the internet, and hooking up with members of the opposite sex. So, for all the millions thrown at "educating" them, you wind up with a bunch of bums with no marketable skills waiting for their next drug deal to make money.
One cannot make someone learn... learning comes with a thirst for knowing, when they think they know everything, there is no thirst for knowledge
That’s not at all what I was talking about. There’s no “make”, there’s no coercion.
Given that a student wishes to learn something but is having trouble, the question I raised is about how can the student’s admittance and retention be increased.
"Learning how to learn" goes hand in hand with "Knowing what you know", I think.
In the early grades I recall learning the multiplication table. At some point I realized that I would hesitate on "8x7" and "7x8", as well as anything involving a "9" where the other digit was "5" or above.
Since I wanted to master the multiplication table, I realized that I was wasting my time by looking at combinations that I knew; such as "3x8".
The first step for me then was to get a set of flash cards of my own and remove the easy ones from the deck. I then practiced with the remaining cards until I knew them.
So the first step in learning is to figure out what you know and what you don't know. The second step is to focus on what you don't know until you finally know it.
The trick with more difficult topics is to discern what you do or do not know. Technical textbooks are typically jammed with example problems. You start by reading the explanatory material until you encounter a worked-out example problem.
Instead of simply reading through the example, you can challenge yourself to solve the problem using just the knowledge you gained from the prior reading. If you can't solve it, then refer to the explanation for the example to figure out what information or skill you were missing and then try again.
Now comes a really important detail. Don't proceed past the example problem until you can work it out yourself without referring to the book's solutions. If you don't do this, you are liable to find that the example problems get progressively harder as you proceed through the chapter due to the fact that you missed some key concept.
The next step in a technical course would be to complete a homework assignment consisting of some of the problems at the end of a chapter. If you can do them then you are probably in good shape. If not, you will need to refer back to the chapter itself to find out what you are missing.
After several chapters are covered, exam time will arrive. Effective study will entail challenging yourself by doing the examples again and reviewing the problems at the end of the chapter, paying first attention to the problems that were actually assigned as homework.
For non-technical courses, you will probably find that the textbook lacks the guidance supplied by example problems. The challenge then is to create your own problems. Create a timeline of important events in the chapter. Write several paragraphs describing the major accomplishments of the major personalities mentioned in the chapter. Make a chart of what happened ("effects") and why they happened ("causes"). Others can perhaps coach you better on how to learn non-technical material. The bottom line is to be constantly testing your mastery of the topic.
Eugene Wigner developed the idea that quantum mechanics has something to do with the workings of the mind. He proposed that the wave function collapses due to its interaction with consciousness. Freeman Dyson argued that mind, as manifested by the capacity to make choices, is to some extent inherent in every electron.
Other contemporary physicists and philosophers considered these arguments to be unconvincing. Victor Stenger characterized quantum consciousness as a myth having no scientific basis that should take its place along with gods, unicorns and dragons.
David Chalmers argued against quantum consciousness. He instead discussed how quantum mechanics may relate to dualistic consciousness. Chalmers is skeptical of the ability of any new physics to resolve the hard problem of consciousness.
Quantum mind approaches
David Bohm viewed quantum theory and relativity as contradictory, which implied a more fundamental level in the universe. He claimed both quantum theory and relativity pointed towards this deeper theory, which he formulated as a quantum field theory. This more fundamental level was proposed to represent an undivided wholeness and an implicate order, from which arises the explicate order of the universe as we experience it.
Bohms proposed implicate order applies both to matter and consciousness. He suggested that it could explain the relationship between them. He saw mind and matter as projections into our explicate order from the underlying implicate order. Bohm claimed that when we look at matter, we see nothing that helps us to understand consciousness.
Bohm discussed the experience of listening to music. He believed the feeling of movement and change that make up our experience of music derive from holding the immediate past and the present in the brain together. The musical notes from the past are transformations rather than memories. The notes that were implicate in the immediate past become explicate in the present. Bohm viewed this as consciousness emerging from the implicate order.
Bohm saw the movement, change or flow, and the coherence of experiences, such as listening to music, as a manifestation of the implicate order. He claimed to derive evidence for this from Jean Piagets work on infants. He held these studies to show that young children learn about time and space because they have a hard-wired understanding of movement as part of the implicate order. He compared this hard-wiring to Chomskys theory that grammar is hard-wired into human brains.
Bohm never proposed a specific means by which his proposal could be falsified, nor a neural mechanism through which his implicate order could emerge in a way relevant to consciousness. Bohm later collaborated on Karl Pribrams holonomic brain theory as a model of quantum consciousness.
According to philosopher Paavo Pylkkänen, Bohms suggestion leads naturally to the assumption that the physical correlate of the logical thinking process is at the classically describable level of the brain, while the basic thinking process is at the quantum-theoretically describable level.
Penrose and Hameroff
Theoretical physicist Roger Penrose and anaesthesiologist Stuart Hameroff collaborated to produce the theory known as Orchestrated Objective Reduction (Orch-OR). Penrose and Hameroff initially developed their ideas separately and later collaborated to produce Orch-OR in the early 1990s. The theory was reviewed and updated by the authors in late 2013.
Penroses argument stemmed from Gödels incompleteness theorems. In Penroses first book on consciousness, The Emperors New Mind (1989), he argued that while a formal system cannot prove its own consistency, Gödels unprovable results are provable by human mathematicians. He took this disparity to mean that human mathematicians are not formal proof systems and are not running a computable algorithm. According to Bringsjorg and Xiao, this line of reasoning is based on fallacious equivocation on the meaning of computation.
Penrose determined wave function collapse was the only possible physical basis for a non-computable process. Dissatisfied with its randomness, Penrose proposed a new form of wave function collapse that occurred in isolation and called it objective reduction. He suggested each quantum superposition has its own piece of spacetime curvature and that when these become separated by more than one Planck length they become unstable and collapse. Penrose suggested that objective reduction represented neither randomness nor algorithmic processing but instead a non-computable influence in spacetime geometry from which mathematical understanding and, by later extension, consciousness derived.
Hameroff provided a hypothesis that microtubules would be suitable hosts for quantum behavior. Microtubules are composed of tubulin protein dimer subunits. The dimers each have hydrophobic pockets that are 8 nm apart and that may contain delocalized pi electrons. Tubulins have other smaller non-polar regions that contain pi electron-rich indole rings separated by only about 2 nm. Hameroff proposed that these electrons are close enough to become entangled. Hameroff originally suggested the tubulin-subunit electrons would form a BoseEinstein condensate, but this was discredited. He then proposed a Frohlich condensate, a hypothetical coherent oscillation of dipolar molecules. However, this too was experimentally discredited.
Furthermore, he proposed that condensates in one neuron could extend to many others via gap junctions between neurons, forming a macroscopic quantum feature across an extended area of the brain. When the wave function of this extended condensate collapsed, it was suggested to non-computationally access mathematical understanding and ultimately conscious experience that were hypothetically embedded in the geometry of spacetime.
However, Orch-OR made numerous false biological predictions, and is not an accepted model of brain physiology. In other words, there is a missing link between physics and neuroscience, for instance, the proposed predominance of A lattice microtubules, more suitable for information processing, was falsified by Kikkawa et al., who showed all in vivo microtubules have a B lattice and a seam. The proposed existence of gap junctions between neurons and glial cells was also falsified. Orch-OR predicted that microtubule coherence reaches the synapses via dendritic lamellar bodies (DLBs), however De Zeeuw et al. proved this impossible, by showing that DLBs are located micrometers away from gap junctions.
In January 2014, Hameroff and Penrose claimed that the discovery of quantum vibrations in microtubules by Anirban Bandyopadhyay of the National Institute for Materials Science in Japan in March 2013 corroborates the Orch-OR theory.
Umezawa, Vitiello, Freeman
Hiroomi Umezawa and collaborators proposed a quantum field theory of memory storage. Giuseppe Vitiello and Walter Freeman proposed a dialog model of the mind. This dialog takes place between the classical and the quantum parts of the brain. Their quantum field theory models of brain dynamics are fundamentally different from the Penrose-Hameroff theory.
Pribram, Bohm, Kak
Karl Pribrams holonomic brain theory (quantum holography) invoked quantum mechanics to explain higher order processing by the mind. He argued that his holonomic model solved the binding problem. Pribram collaborated with Bohm in his work on the quantum approaches to mind and he provided evidence on how much of the processing in the brain was done in wholes. He proposed that ordered water at dendritic membrane surfaces might operate by structuring Bose-Einstein condensation supporting quantum dynamics.
Although Subhash Kaks work is not directly related to that of Pribram, he likewise proposed that the physical substrate to neural networks has a quantum basis, but asserted that the quantum mind has machine-like limitations. He points to a role for quantum theory in the distinction between machine intelligence and biological intelligence, but that in itself cannot explain all aspects of consciousness.
Henry Stapp proposed that quantum waves are reduced only when they interact with consciousness. He argues from the Orthodox Quantum Mechanics of John von Neumann that the quantum state collapses when the observer selects one among the alternative quantum possibilities as a basis for future action. The collapse, therefore, takes place in the expectation that the observer associated with the state. Stapps work drew criticism from scientists such as David Bourget and Danko Georgiev. Georgiev criticized Stapps model in two respects:
Stapps mind does not have its own wavefunction or density matrix, but nevertheless can act upon the brain using projection operators. Such usage is not compatible with standard quantum mechanics because one can attach any number of ghostly minds to any point in space that act upon physical quantum systems with any projection operators. Therefore, Stapps model negates the prevailing principles of physics.
Stapps claim that quantum Zeno effect is robust against environmental decoherence directly contradicts a basic theorem in quantum information theory that acting with projection operators upon the density matrix of a quantum system can only increase the systems Von Neumann entropy.
Stapp has responded to both of Georgievs objections.
British philosopher David Pearce defends what he calls physicalistic idealism (Physicalistic idealism is the non-materialist physicalist claim that reality is fundamentally experiential and that the natural world is exhaustively described by the equations of physics and their solutions [...]), and has conjectured that unitary conscious minds are physical states of quantum coherence (neuronal superpositions). This conjecture is, according to Pearce, amenable to falsification unlike most theories of consciousness, and Pearce has outlined an experimental protocol describing how the hypothesis could be tested.
The main argument against the quantum mind hypothesis is the assertion that quantum states in the brain would lose coherency before they reached a scale where they could be useful for neural processing. This supposition was elaborated by Tegmark. His calculations suppose that quantum systems in the brain decohere at sub-picosecond timescales, assumed[vague] to be too short to control brain function.
"In the context of encounters of Science and Religion, "In Search of Divine Reality" proposes that the traditional conflict between the two disciplines is mainly one involving classical, Newtonian Science; and many of its most pressing issues have obtained an entirely different meaning by the change in world view effected by the discovery of Quantum Mechanics.
In Classical Physics, there is no room for the Spiritual and for God. In the world of Quantum Mechanics, the foundations of physical reality have revealed all the aspects of a transcendent reality; with non-material entities at the basis of material things; with components of ordinary things that are not as real as the things that they make; with instantaneous, long-distance (non-local) connections pervading the universe; and with elementary entities that have mind-like properties.
Thus, in the same way in which dead atoms can form living organisms and stupid molecules can form intelligent brains, the metaphysical can engender the physical.
Without the employment of advanced mathematics, the book uses the phenomena of Quantum Reality to provide a clear and generally understandable description of the concepts of Quantum Mechanics and its consequences for our views of human nature."
On the Foundations of Metaphysics in the
Mind-like Background of Physical Reality
by Lothar Schäfer
That the basis of the material world is non-material is a transcription of the fact that the properties of things are determined by quantum waves, - probability amplitudes which carry numerical relations, but are devoid of mass and energy. As a consequence of the wave-like aspects of reality, atoms do not have any shape - a solid outline in space - but the things do, which they form; and the constituents of matter, the elementary particles, are not in the same sense real as the real things that they constitute.
Rather, left to themselves they exist in a world of possibilities, between the idea of a thing and a real thing, as Heisenberg wrote, in superpositions of quantum states, in which a definite place in space, for example, is not an intrinsic attribute. That is, when such a particle is not observed it is, in particular, nowhere.
In the quantum phenomena we have discovered that reality is different than we thought. Visible order and permanence are based on chaos and transitory entities. Mental principles - numerical relations, mathematical forms, principles of symmetry - are the foundations of order in the universe, whose mind-like properties are further established by the fact that changes in information can act, without any direct physical intervention, as causal agents in observable changes in quantum states. Prior to the discovery of these phenomena information-driven reactions were a prerogative of mind. The universe, Eddington wrote, is of the nature of a thought. The stuff of the world is mind-stuff.
Mind-stuff, in a part of reality behind the mechanistic foreground of the world of space-time energy sensibility, as Sherrington called it, is not restricted to Einstein locality. The existence of non-local physical effects - faster than light phenomena - has now been well established by quantum coherence-type experiments like those related to Bells Theorem. If the universe is non-local, something that happens at this moment in its depths may have an instantaneous effect a long distance away, for example right here and right now. By every molecule in our body we are tuned to the mind-stuff of the universe.
In this way the quantum phenomena have forced the opening of a universe that Newtons mechanism once blinded and closed. Unintended by its creator, Newtons mechanics defined a machine, without any life or room for human values, the Parmenidian One, forever unchanging and predictable, eternal matter ruled by eternal laws, as Sheldrake wrote. In contrast, the quantum phenomena have revealed that the world of mechanism is just the cortex of a deeper and wider, transcendent, reality. The future of the universe is open, because it is unpredictable. Its present is open, because it is subject to non-local influences that are beyond our control. Cracks have formed in the solidity of the material world from which emanations of a different type of reality seep in. In the diffraction experiments of material particles, a window has opened to the world of Platonic ideas.
That the universe should be mind-like and not communicate with the human mind - the one organ to which it is akin - is not very likely. In fact, one of the most fascinating faculties of the human mind is its ability to be inspired by unknown sources - as though it were sensitive to signals of a mysterious origin. It is at this point that the pieces of the puzzle fall into place. Ever since the discovery of Humes paradox - the principles that we use to establish scientific knowledge cannot establish themselves - science has had an illegitimate basis. Hume was right: in every external event we observe conjunction, but infer connection. Thus, causality is not a principle of nature but a habit of the human mind. At the same time, Hume was not right in postulating that there is no single experience of causality. Because, when the self-conscious mind itself is directly involved in a causal link, for example when its associated body takes part in a collision, or when the mind by its own free will is the cause of some action, then there is a direct experience of, and no doubt that, causal connections exist. When this modification of the paradox is coupled with the quantum base, a large number of pressing problems find their delightful solutions.
Like the nature of reality, the nature of knowledge is counter-intuitive, and not at all like the automatic confidence that we have in sensations of this phenomenon. The basis of knowledge is threefold. The premises are experience of reality, employment of reason, and reliance on certain non-rational, non-empirical principles, such as the Assumptions of identity, factuality, permanence, Causality, and induction. Where do these principles come from? Neither from an experience of external phenomena, nor from a process of reasoning, but from a system program of the self-conscious mind. By being an extension of the mind-like background of nature and partaking of its order, mind gives the epistemic principles - those used in deriving knowledge - certainty. Since they are not anchored in the world of space-time and mass-energy but are valid nevertheless, they seem to derive from a higher order and transcendent part of physical reality. They are, it can be assumed, messengers of the mind-like order of reality.
In the same way, moral principles. Traditional societies based their social order on myths and religious explanations. By assuming a purpose in the world, they told people why things are the way they are, and why they should act the way they were supposed to act. In the animist ontogenies values and knowledge derived from a single source, and life had meaning in an animist covenant as Monod called it. By destroying the ontological base of the animist explanations, - their astronomy, physics, and chemistry, - science also destroyed the foundations of their values.
In this process Monod saw the origin of the contemporary sickness in culture, das Unbehagen in der Kultur: on the one hand science is the basis for our power and survival; on the other, it has broken the animist covenant, rendered life meaningless in the process, and disconnected the world of values from the world of facts.
The sickness of spirit and the concomitant erosion of moral standards are the great danger for the future of mankind, already apparent in the public adoration of violence and debased behavior. At its roots is the unsolved question, on whose authority are the moral principles to be based now that the authority of the animist myths has been found lacking?
For those who are willing to listen, the answer is: on the authority of mind. In the same way that the self-conscious mind grants certainty to the epistemic principles, it invests authority in the moral principles. Like the former, the moral principles are non-empirical and non-rational, - not derived by a process of logic nor verified by experience - messengers from a higher reality beyond the front of mass-energy sensibility.
Epistemic principles give us a sense of what is true and false; moral principles, of what is right and wrong. The former establish the certainty of identity, permanence, factuality, causality; the latter, of responsibility, morality, honesty. By the same process that allows us to accept, without possible verification, the epistemic principles, we can also accept the authority of the moral principles. Violation of any one of them will put us in contrast to the nature of reality. If the nature of the universe is mind-like, it must be assumed to have a spiritual order as well as a physical order. As the epistemic principles are expressions of physical order, the ethical principles are expressions of the spiritual order of physical reality. By being an extension of the transcendent part of the nature and partaking of its order, mind establishes the authority of the ethical principles.
The challenge of reality and the ability to explore it are wonderful gifts to mankind. Understanding reality requires refinement of thought. That is, it has to do with culture. It requires an effort, is not afforded by automatic, intuitive reflex. Making sense of the world takes the response to a challenge, not the complacency of common sense. It is one and the same as striving for the moral life. An important part of it is the need to become aware of the specific character of human nature, to recognize the human mystery as Eccles called it: the mystery of how mind and body interact, how self-conscious human beings with values emerged in an evolutionary process supposedly based on blind chance and brutality. The evidence is growing that there is more to human nature than the laws of physics or chemistry, more to the process of evolution than blind chance and brutality; that evolution is more than, as Monod wrote, a giant lottery, and human beings live at the boundary of an alien world that is deaf to our music and indifferent to our hopes and suffering and crimes.
The barbaric view of reality is mechanistic. It is the easy view of classical science and of common sense. In epistemology mechanism is naive realism, the view that all knowledge is based on unquestionable facts, on apodictically verified truths. In physics mechanism is the view that the universe is clockwork, closed, and entirely predictable on the basis of unchanging laws. In biology, mechanism is the view that all aspects of life, its evolution, our feelings and values, are ultimately explicable in terms of the laws of physics and chemistry. In our legal system, mechanism is the view that the assumption of precise procedural technicalities constitutes perfect justice. In our political system, mechanism is the view that the assertion of finely formulated personal rights constitutes the ideal democracy. In our public administration, it is the view that responsible service manifests itself by the enforcement of finely split bureaucratic regulations. All of these attitudes are the attitudes of barbarians.
The quantum phenomena have taught us that, without naive realism, knowledge is possible. They have taught us that, without naive animism an ethic of knowledge, as Monod has called it, and a life with values are possible. Principles exist which are valid even though they cannot be verified. The discovery of the quantum phenomena has established a new covenant - between the human mind and the mind-like background of the universe - one that provides a home again to the homeless and meaning to the meaningless life. Whether or not the human mind is separate of the brain, as Sherrington and Eccles thought, I do not know. But I do not doubt that it is human only in some parts, and in others shares in the mind-like background of the universe. It is now possible to believe that the mind is the realization of universal potentia, a manifestation of the essence of the universe. Therefore, the only good life is in harmony with the nature of reality.
Lothar Schäfer is the author of the book, In Search of Divine Reality - Science as a Source of Inspiration, . The book is, in essence, a brilliant description of the encounter of Science and Religion, wherein Schäfer proposes that the traditional conflict between the two disciplines is mainly one involving classical, Newtonian Science; and many of its most pressing issues have obtained an entirely different meaning by the change in world view effected by the discovery of Quantum Mechanics.
Lothar Schäfer is the Edgar Wertheim Distinguished Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He received his Ph.D. (in Chemistry) from the University of Munich in 1965, and is the recipient of numerous awards for his scientific work. His current research interests include topics in Applied Quantum Chemistry and Molecular Structural Studies by Electron Diffraction.
In a review of Schäfers book, Professor Quentin Smith, Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo, Michigan, writes:
Schäfers book is an integrative approach to Modern Science and Religion that aims to show how some traditional religious and philosophical notions can be understood or redefined in terms of modern science. The scientific explanations are reliable and the scientific interpretations of religious ideas are interesting and should be taken seriously and respectfully by even the most sober-minded adherents of the scientific world-view. Rather than science being opposed or subordinated to religion, religious views are refashioned in terms of currently accepted scientific theories. Most of the arguments of the book are based on conclusions drawn from the phenomena of quantum reality and it is one of the clearest introductory explanations of quantum mechanics on the market. Schäfers book is written in a lively and accessible style that will appeal to the general reader. I really enjoyed reading this book.
Unfortunately my brain doesn't realize that appointments and people's names are stuff I need to hold on to........
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