Transitions

In September of 2007, I published my review of the Penrose-Hameroff theory of consciousness that was based on quantum coherence in biological cells via microtubules.  At that time there was still significant controversy over the Penrose argument.  Roger Penrose had published numerous answers to challenges by critics and I realized at that time (2007) that there was controversy over how rigorously certain parts of the logic could be applied, particularly the Gödel-Turing argument.  I still think the Penrose-Hameroff approach is valid, but, like some other positions taken within the scientific community, it is based on some assumptions about the nature of the universe that may never be provable.

I am referring to an essay by Dr. Alan Lightman titled, “The Accidental Universe: Science’s Crisis of Faith” (Harper’s, December, 2011).  In this article, Dr. Lightman describes the multiverse model of creation and its allure.  The attraction of the multiverse model is based on the observation that many physical constants needed to describe the universe appear to be fine-tuned for the existence of life.  This situation has led some scientists, for example, Francis Collins, to see “the hands of a creator” in the existence of life.  Many scientists are uncomfortable with such statements.

The multiverse model of creation counters the fine-tuning argument by positing an infinite number of random universes, the vast majority of which have no life because the physical constants are not conducive to life.  This model also has some uncomfortable repercussions.  One issue is that there appears to be no way to prove that such a multiverse creation exists. Another issue is that the multiverse model absolutely devastates the current approach to theoretical physics by attributing the mathematical model for our universe to random chance.  There may be no grand unified theory because there is no necessity for coherence: “If the multiverse idea is correct, then the historic mission of physics to explain all the properties of our universe in terms of fundamental principles—to explain why the properties of our universe must necessarily be what they are—is futile, a beautiful philosophical dream that simply isn’t true.”  I stand with those who see the work of a creator in the design of our one universe.

The Penrose-Hameroff theory of consciousness may well require some worldview assumptions that are not provable.  One would be something like objective realism, where one takes the position that the collapse of the wave function in quantum physics is a real phenomenon.  That is Penrose’s position and his basis for the Objective Reduction theory (OR).  I don’t know whether OR will be proven, but it seems to me that something like it would be necessary for objective realism.  It is possible that the conditions for OR will remain hidden behind the Quantum Veil, and that we will need to assume objective realism as a premise in order to make sense of our universe.

For me, there are several interrelated questions of primary importance.  The first question concerns the nature and existence of a creator.  Another question concerns the direction of evolution.  The third question concerns whether consciousness in inherent in the universe or whether it emerges from complex information processing.  My background is software development and engineering.  I have spent 36 years designing, developing, testing and maintaining complex software systems.  Some of that work included research into design of AI (Artificial Intelligence) components.  All of my experience in software development tells me that consciousness will not emerge from programming techniques on traditional computers, and that is consistent with the Gödel-Turing argument put forth by Roger Penrose.  I will leave open for now the question of whether quantum computers can be conscious. (Some would view the brain as a complex quantum computer designed by evolution).  So, on the third question, I stand with those who think that the basis for consciousness is inherent in the universe, not something added on through complex information processing.

On the question of evolution’s direction, the evidence points toward the creation of beings of higher consciousness.  One view is that the direction towards higher consciousness is accidental but is based on the rules for natural selection.  This appears to be the view of Daniel Dennett.  It is interesting to me that Dennett holds the view that certain areas of intellectual activity could be transcendent.  Dennett is a cognitive scientist and an atheist, yet has said in an interview with Robert Wright that mathematics and even ethics may be areas subject to a platonic kind of transcendence.  I presume that the area of theoretical physics could be included as an area of transcendence.  If there are rigorous, explicit rules for natural selection, I presume they could be treated likewise.  So the deeper question about evolution and about physics is where do the rules come from?   If one accepts the multiverse model of creation, then the rules are a product of random chance and the apparent order or logic of the rules is a byproduct of the anthropic principle.  That is, because we are the product of our universe, our consciousness has evolved to ‘see’ the order and logic in the universe. I have already stated that I do not buy into the multiverse model, so it should be no surprise that I think that the platonic, transcendent areas are an expression of directionality for the universe and for evolution.  (By the way, the interview of Dennett can be found at http://link.brightcove.com/services/player/bcpid713544743?bctid=715977787).

When I look at all the relevant evidence, I see the work of the creator in the design and direction of the universe.  The evidence for me resides in the cumulative effect of these statements:  1) The assumption of one universe and an objective realism point of view; 2) The one universe has been designed for life by virtue of the finely-tuned physical constants which are conducive to life; 3) The one universe can be viewed as a conscious whole by virtue of quantum physics; 4) The universe itself is instrumental in the activity of life and consciousness through the action of quantum physics on biological molecules; 5) Evolution has direction by virtue of a conscious universe and a corollary is that history has direction and life has purpose; 6) Transcendent realms of knowledge and understanding such as mathematics, ethics, theoretical physics, and so forth are real and lead to real productive activities.  I also explicitly deny any portion of the logical positivist point of view which states that the only real entities are those that can be measured: consciousness is real; self-consciousness is real; God is real.  In summary, the one universe in which we have been created literally yearns for life and consciousness.

Yes, there are “leaps of faith” in the chain of reasoning that I use.  I think that such leaps are necessary in order to make sense of our world and our lives.  I understand that other people will view reality differently.  Others will look at the same data and see accidentalness where I see purpose.  If that accidentalness comes from the multiverse model, then I think that point of view does real harm to certain transcendent-linked activities like theoretical physics.  It remains to be addressed whether there might be any moral or personal repercussions from such points of view.  I hope to address those concerns in later writings.

I will also explicitly point out that the characteristics of such a creator as I have outlined above do not necessarily include any supernatural interventions in history.  The expression of God’s intervention in history is implicit in life and consciousness.  I would view the physical laws of the universe as a kind of covenant with all of life.  I would also point out that “life and consciousness” can be quite broadly defined.  For example, the Gaia hypothesis views the entire life ecosystem of earth as a kind of unified consciousness.  I am not prepared at this point to be any more specific about these definitions.  Furthermore, my view of God raises many questions that cannot be easily answered except through faith such as: is there an eternal soul?  At this point all I can say is that the quantum world is very strange and that it is not supernatural.

Now, let me turn to the second reason for this essay.  In late 2007 after struggling with these issues of creation and purpose in the universe, my life took a dramatic and unexpected turn.  My wife and I had been attending a Unitarian Universalist congregation and we had raised our children under the UU banner.  In the fall of 2007, we decided to explore the faith tradition of our youth.  This was not just an ordinary decision, but, as my wife put it, “it was an offer we couldn’t refuse!”  It was a decision that surprised both of us.  My wife had been raised within Judaism and I had been raised in a Christian non-denominational church.  I chose Methodism in my youth, so I began attending a local Methodist church.  We also decided to participate in each other’s faith tradition as much as practical.  I participated in Torah study and some Jewish worship services and my wife sometimes attended my Methodist Sunday school and worship service.  All this began in earnest in late 2007 although some exploration of these new activities had already transpired previously.

The real surprise and shock for both of us was how much anti-Judaism was still present in Christian worship and study.  Let me be clear: there was no overt racial antisemitism, but there were statements of negativity towards the Jews of antiquity.  What became painfully clear was that Christianity as it was being practiced in the 21st century still relied on the ancient tradition and polemic of anti-Judaism.  I could not recognize this at first because the traditional Christian narrative had become so ingrained in my consciousness. But my wife could recognize this dynamic and we discussed it between us and also with others and I began to see that the Christian narrative contained significant elements of anti-Judaism.  This conclusion was supported by many books and articles.  For the next four years we studied and explored this phenomenon as a faith and justice issue within Christianity.  For my part, I recognized no pattern of anti-Christianity within Judaism.

It is perhaps fortuitous or maybe even providential that I had arrived at some theological understanding that viewed God in general terms as opposed to a sectarian view which would have made interfaith dialog very difficult.

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6 thoughts on “Transitions

  1. GreAt piece of writing. I could never organize my thoughts in such a concise way. I’m way too verbal… In my humble opinion I just can’t fathom any scientific brain rationalizing any belief at all in a omnipresent creator. I’d love to sit and talk about this, but the thought of any belief in a “god” escapes rational thought to me.. And I don’t mean to sound ignorant to my family. I read and re-read this piece and maybe I’ve just not yet been enlightened to this thought…
    On another note I hope you guys are well, and I hope to see you soon. Will.

    • Thanks, Will. Maybe we will have a chance to talk someday, but, until then, I am preparing another segment with more “evidence”.

    • What I think is that Dennis overplayed his hand (pun intended) when he spoke of the hand of the Creator. From there the mind automatically goes to the traditional theist picture of a God external to the universe, and an anthropomorphic one, at that. It detracts from the two alternatives–either there is a directionality in creation or there is not. If we are consistent in our thinking as philosophers and scientists have to be, then directionality either implies something more than creation, or, if not that, there are multiverses. It must be one or the other–and neither one can be proved.

    • P.S. Didn’t mean to imply I was a philosopher or scientist. I just mean that they have to follow their logic all the way through while “civilians” usually get out of facing the implications of their beliefs by not being consistent. ☺

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