Monday, April 12, 2010

Is Deepak Choprah a harbinger of things to come?

I have often said that it's not particularly interesting to me that the vast majority of scientists and other intellectuals who lived before Darwin believed quite devotedly in a personal God. At that time, there was a question which confronted us every day of our lives, and for which nobody had any answer that was even remotely satisfactory -- namely, "Where did all these animals come from?!?"

Now obviously, when confronted with a question one cannot answer, the "Let's just make shit up!" approach is not preferred. Especially if the shit you make up is the ol' "goddidit" refrain. But for a question so basic and so omnipresent as the origin of species, it's pretty forgivable, in my opinion.

Also prior to Darwin, there was no "Creation Science" movement to speak of. And why not? Humanity had all the tools they needed to do baraminology for millenia, and yet the idea wasn't even proposed until 1941, and wasn't formalized until 1990. And the bizarre clawing apologetics of idiots like Dembski is certainly a new phenomenon.

Why did it take so long? It seems as though in past centuries, a Creationist attitude was just the default. I forget who coined the term "promiscuous teleology", but it seems appropriate here. That's just the way we tend to think. So the majority of Creationists had no special stake in it. Now, of course, the only people who are Creationists are those who want to make some excuse for it, to keep this dumb old idea alive for some reason.

I wonder to what extent a belief in Cartesian dualism might follow a similar trajectory. And are we seeing the first wave of "dualist apologists" right now?

Yet another one of those elephant-in-the-room everyday questions that for most of history had no good answer is, "What is consciousness and why do we have it?" Much like the teleological explanation for the origin of species, believing by default in an immaterial "soul" that is the essence of consciousness would be an intellectual lapse, and far less preferred then simply admitting that we don't know -- however, it's such an every day question that, in the absence of any decent answers, people could be forgiven for taking the supernatural position. It's still wrong, but it's understandable.

As our knowledge of neuroscience advances, however, we are starting to have much better answers to that question. We still can't quite fully put all the pieces together, but we know from case studies of brain damaged patients that pretty much any facet of what we might call consciousness can be altered or destroyed by neurological changes. And as we start to understand more and more pieces of the brain, it becomes much easier to understand how the sensation of consciousness could emerge from this. (Particularly interesting are observations into how certain parts of the brain seem to be dedicated purely to coming up with a coherent narrative to give the appearance of all these disparate components acting as a single entity, but I digress...)

In the face of this, will dualism be forced to beat a retreat? In the future, will it no longer be the default position? And for those dedicated to the ideal of dualism, will they find themselves coming up with all sorts of pseudoscience-y apologetics to make room for a "science of dualism"?

Well goddamn, Deepak Choprah's already on the case! Could he merely be ahead of his time? Is he the Kent Hovind of dualism, proposing ridiculous ideas like a giant ice shield, before his more "refined" Dembski-esque counterparts come along with ridiculous mathematical "research papers"? Time will tell, I suppose...

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