Saturday, December 31, 2016

Three short philosophical reflections as 2016 draws to an end.

The world as a simulation:

If the universe is a simulation for the “benefit” of earthlings, perhaps it would not be necessary for the “overlords” designing and creating the simulation, to simulate all of space time. I think this was broached in the Truman Show, where the world of the main character (played by Jim Carrey) was actually a very small region of space, perhaps the size of a small village, but surrounded by solid walls.

Following along with this idea, the seemingly distant and vastly numerous galaxies would not have to actually be objectively there, they would only have to appear to be from earth based observations. Similarly, cosmological time could be greatly truncated to merely the historical times of humans. The Big Bang and the eons of cosmological and geological evolution need only be made to have apparently occurred. The simulation would not need to actually include these eras of time.

Would all of the apparent “creatures” in the simulation need to be conscious? No, as aforementioned, some could be “zombies” (to use the term popular in consciousness writings, robots of a sort with no subjective lives). To introduce a bit of cynicism, this might explain the seeming stupidity of so many people in the world today.

The HBO series “West World” depicts this idea, where, if I am understanding it, only a tiny fraction of the beings within the simulated world are actual sentient beings, the rest being robots. Star Trek the Next Generations’s “Holideck” simulations of past epochs of human history also involve only fractional populations of conscious beings.

Robotic Consciousness:

Today, many AI workers and theorists tend to talk as if this is certain to be achieved by the end of the 21st century (if not significantly earlier). But how will they know for sure that a robotic AI unit is really conscious, and not a “Zombie”? Indeed, we do not know which of our friends, relative, colleagues, and members of the human race at large possess consciousness. We assume that organic humans have it using “Occam’s Razor”: isn’t it the most straightforward assumption that they are conscious, just as we are ourselves? But it is far from certain (for example, consider the point made above in connection with us living in a simulated world).

Yes, there is the Turing Test for intelligence, but this test is not for detecting consciousness. I think it is easy to imagine a platform with intelligence that does not possess subjective consciousness.

However, as so brilliantly and poignantly illustrated in the episode of Star Trek the Next Generation (in connection with the robot known as “Data”), if a robot, or artificial human, seems to be conscious, it seems the only morally acceptable approach is to assume it is conscious. The opposite approach, treating such a being as not having consciousness, runs the risk of treating a conscious being as inanimate, and expendable, machinery. This would be unacceptable morally, horribly so.

Free Will:

It is not only difficult to see how we humans can have free will, it is difficult to even define exactly what it means. Where did the agent supposedly having free will come from? 

The first difficulty comes from “physicalism”, the idea that all motion in the universe ultimately results from causal behavior of elementary particles obeying some kind of “laws” of nature, and nothing can escape from these---certainly not the atoms comprising our brains, or the nerve impulses that seem to represent our thoughts. While quantum mechanics suggests that there is a random element in how the micro-world is realized in the macro-world of our everyday, such randomness does not really seem to be what we want free will to be.

The second sticking point is that “Nature plus Nurture”....i.e., our genetic makeup plus the effects of accumulated experiences would seem to exhaust what could determine the behavior of an individual human. Each individual human begins life as an infant with certain instinctual drives and capacities, but surely decision making invoking free will would only come later after experiences, in conjunction with the physical body,  have molded the character and personality of the human person.

It would seem that a mechanism similar to this would hold even if each person has a spirit or soul that has developed in time (or something like time in some transcendent realm, what we might call “hyper-time”). As long as the decision making nature of a being is formed from some kind of a starting point plus accumulated experiences, whether in this physical realm in another, it would seem that the concept of free will in such a being becomes untenable.

Everything a person does, whether constrained by the physicalist model or the nature plus nurture model, is, at root, just due to random effects. This makes us think that such things a praise and blame, punishment and reward, admiration and condemnation, are all quite unjustified at the deepest level.

There would seem to be a way out of this trap, however---admittedly a highly speculative one, and one that I doubt very many moderns want to entertain for even a moment. But I want to proceed with it here because I firmly believe that each of us do in fact have free will. Furthermore, I think ALL of us believe we do have free will, no matter what is maintained in formal philosophical writings.

So given that I believe we all do have it, a far out idea that is almost surely impossible to prove might compel some degree of acceptance, simply because of the explanatory power of the idea. Suppose that each person has a soul of some kind that is eternal, or at least outside of any kind of time, much in that way that I believe Plato and certain other Greek philosophers imagined.

There are precedents in science for entertaining, or taking seriously, ideas or models that are, at least currently, beyond empirical verification, but that have explanatory power. Examples would be string theory of elementary particles or gravity loop theory, either of which hold out hope of incorporating the gravitational force into the presently incomplete “standard model of particle physics”.

This idea of an eternal soul does suggest that a type of reincarnation might be in operation. Suppose that upon death in this world, your soul goes through some kind of review process in a temporary realm, and that you then maybe even have some say as to what realm you are going to next. Just as dreams fade rapidly upon awakening, so the soul might only very briefly recall or sense fragments of the formal life. Such an idea, if I understand it correctly, is put forth by William Wordsworth in his beautiful poem “Ode on Intimations of Immortality....”. The Irish fantasy writer Lord Dunsany has also toyed with similar ideas in his eschatological short story, The Last Voyage of the King

The subsequent realm does not necessarily have to be Earth, or even this galaxy or universe. It could be in a parallel universe, as some kind of a creature such as was imagined by H.P. Lovecraft, perhaps as a tentacled creature with 7 eyes or legs, or as some conscious being wholly unimaginable to us in our present human state. It would not even necessarily be represented or instantiated in an individual manner, maybe the reincarnated being could be composite of several beings, whether former Earthlings or other.

The speculations along these lines could clearly go on for a long time. but having sketched the broad outline of such a (greatly enlarged from the usual popular idea of it) reincarnation model, now want to move on to other topic, perhaps returning to this one at a later date (in 2017 or beyond).

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Physician Assisted Suicide

Should I be able to commit suicide legally? The question seems absurd. What if I am caught in the act and my attempt is aborted? What are they going to do? Execute me? Well, mission accomplished, LOL.

No, but seriously, the real crux of this issue is whether a physician should be legally allowed to help any of us who wish to painlessly “shuffle off this mortal coil”. While recognizing that there are potential dangers associated with physician assisted suicide, I think the answer should be a resounding YES!

The dicey issues and pitfalls are obvious: members of the family that are heir to the dying person’s wealth might wish, if they are bad, greedy people, to hasten the sick person’s death, even in cases where recovery might in fact be possible. So safeguards need to be put in place to prevent this. What exactly are these safeguards? I do not know, I am not a lawyer, but I am confident that such safeguards can be put in place.

Surely such safeguards would involve getting a panel of, say, three or more independent physicians to attest that there is no chance of recovery, and that the dying person has no chance for any quality of life unless a lethal medical method is employed to bring about termination of life. Perhaps as part of a person’s “living will” he/she would list the relatives or loved ones he/she trusts to be involved in the life-ending decisions.

What confuses the issue is the religious objection to suicide. Well, that is fine for religious people to choose to suffer because they believe that it is part of God’s plan for them to do so, but it is not defensible for them to impose that upon those of us who are non religious, or secular. In other words this is a “separation of church and state” issue.

It is fine with me if ones religion forbids him/her to seek a painless exit from the living, but it is not OK if you force others to suffer because you feel it is God’s plan. 

Would I choose to seek a physician to end my life via, for example. some kind of painless injection? I actually do not know. I may come down on the side of the religious objectors to such a procedure, in my case. Maybe I would feel, when actually in that position, that there is a meaning in my pain and suffering. But that is not for the government to decide, and I very much resent the attempts of Christians or other religious groups to deny me the right to seek such a “final solution”.
A few random philosophical thoughts on metaphysics, consciousness, and free will.

Does consciousness originate within the brain, or is there some kind of a generalized consciousness “field” that couple to an individual that gives that individual a subjective conscious awareness? An analogy with the “Higgs field’ of the standard model of particle physics would be apt, where in that case elementary particles get their mass by coupling to the Higgs field.

It is hard to see how science, neuroscience in particular, can satisfactorily answer this, since science is based on making observations in objective realty, and consciousness is subjective.

Many, if not most, of the questions that concern thoughtful humans are metaphysical questions that cannot be answered, or even broached, by the methods of the empirical sciences. Do we have free will? Is there a God? Does our consciousness in survive, in some form, our biological death? Why does the universe exist, or “why is there something rather than nothing?”.

This last question stands apart from the others in than I don’t think a satisfactory answer can even be imagined. As philosophers like to say, what would an answer even look like? Just imagining an answer makes us realize we would need t make use of already existent things

Now to be sure, for some of us, science can tend to suggest, or hint at, answers to some of the above questions. For example, the amazing design of the universe seems to suggest something like the “Einsteinian God” (or gods?). I think many theoretical physicists like to make reference to “God” or a deity when discussing how these physics laws were made to be consistent, and pregnant with deep complexity, although it is usually couched in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek style.

On the other hand, “New Atheist” Richard Dawkins has pointed out, somewhat plausibly to my mind, that biological evolution tends to imply that there is no God, no Designer. Natural selection seems to satisfy all the questions one might have about how life forms are so wonderfully adapted to the biosphere, and since this selection process is “nature red in tooth and claw” (as Charles Darwin famously remarked), if there is a God He/She seems unnecessarily cruel. But the most straightforward response to this is that there is , in fact, no God, no designer.

But when Dawkins goes on to say that there is no evidence of God, or Nobelist Steven Weinberg says that the “more we learn about the universe, the more pointless it seems”, they are on shaky ground. What evidence of a God, or a purpose to the universe, could possibly be found through empirical study of the universe?

Free will is a topic much “in the news” today, at least among philosophers and neuroscientists. I am guessing that the vast majority of people working in these ares would readily say there no such thing as free will. And more often than not, they would add that “science has proved that there is not”. But of course, they cannot act on this, or even convincingly argue for it consistently, since, if their thoughts and actions are compelled, it seems there is no reason to believe what they say is true. We don’t ascribe any plausibility to the output of a puppet. Strict determinism seems to quickly undermine itself.

But let’s not be hasty here. Neuroscience aside, is seems very difficult to see how to escape from the constraints of “Nature plus Nurture” (NpN) since what an organism does would seem to be entirely dues to its “initial state” (its genetic makeup) and its experiences, which in effect add software to the organism.
So, while it is easy to escape from the “physicalist” form of determinism through the inherent uncertainties of quantum mechanics of the microcosm, NpN is a real sticking point for the free willist. In fact, this is even true if the physical universe is non-deterministic.The real thrust of the NpN mechanism is that since the organism has a beginning in time, there can be no agency associated with its decisions other than what has been added onto its physical make up by its time-ordered experiences.

The fact is, it is even hard to specify exactly what free will would even mean. Free will is one of those things that we all “know”, or at least assume, that we and others have. In a sense it is axiomatic. In a way, we say, it is caused, but it is caused by our reasoning processes in our heads. And this seems correct, since the strict determinist has the onus of explaining why reason would have evolved, if it is not to allow an individual organism how to think and act. In a sense, determinism and reason seem to “over determine” the behavior of an organism. If its behavior is unfolding according to necessity, what possible purpose would reason serve from an evolutionary perspective?

The strict physicalist determents has another problem. Recall Laplace’s argument that if he knew the positions and velocities of all the particles in the universe, then the later states of the universe would all be predictable. This is usually brought up in writings as being hopelessly naive, in view of chaos theory whereby the slightest uncertainty in these parameters would quickly lead to the universe being entirely unpredictable. But again, not so fast, chaos theory would completely render to predictability argument wrong. But a chaotic system is still a deterministic system. Conceptually, Laplace would seem to be correct, at least with the confines of “classical physics”.

Quantum mechanics,which certainly seems to well describe the micro-world, does seem to change this, although only according to some interpretations of it. For example, the “Copenhagen” interpretations involves separating the observer from the physical system, and the act of making an observation on a physical system cause it to collapse to a classically describable state. Hence, the overall deterministic nature of the physical universe is under cut by this view.

However, one might argue that if the atoms of the observer are included in the quantum state of the universe, physical determinism still holds. Following this line of argument, it would seem inescapable to infer that there really is nothing that could happen that was not preordained. But again, in this picture, what would be the “reason for reason”, and for consciousness? Truth and necessity seem to be incompatible.

(to be continued)

Friday, May 13, 2016

This is my response to an Atlantic article criticizing Bill Maher’s and Sam Harris’s positions on certain aspects of Islam. The article is at 

This article is plagued by a great deal of confusion, and in addition contains many half-truths (plus some out right baloney).

Taking Maher and Harris together, it is not so much that they want Americans to “denounce” Islam, as to have a critical discussion of it, hoping to eventually improve the lot of the muslim’s lives. In particular, they do want “liberals” in the west to denounce many of the cruel and rights-violating aspects of Sharia (such as stoning of adulteresses). And they also make a call for humans everywhere to stop believing and acting on words written in “sacred” texts long ago by people who through no fault of their own were ignorant. In his writings, Harris often makes the point that the West, where Christianity still has a significant foothold, the 18th century Enlightenment has today greatly reduced acceptance of the Old Testament’s brutal injunctions.

Then to mention the infamous Ben Affleck appearance on Maher’s show as if it were some rational discussion is absurd. Anyone who watches that show (and it can still be seen on youtube) will be astonished by the idiotic, illogical ranting of Affleck. He in fact make no serious contributions whatsoever, he just rants loudly and offensively as some spoiled child might do. My suspicion is that, were it not for the undue respect Americans accord physically attractive actors, the vast majority of people would be disgusted by his behavior on the show.

The article uncritically bandies about the terms “democracy” and “Islamophobia”. Americans today, on both the left and the right, are largely ignorant regarding the distinction between a “democracy” and a “republic”. In the US, we have the latter. A strict version of the former would lead to a “tyranny of the majority”. “Islamophobia” is a bogus term that should be dropped from any discussion of Islam, because implies that those who criticize Islam are somehow “afraid” of it, or are actually bigoted against muslims, whereas usually the criticism is motivated by a desire to actually improve the lives of muslims living under theocracies that still implement Sharia. As the article actually points out in one place, Schlesinger’s term “doughfaces” could be applied to many on the American left who are quick to ridicule and reject any thing that hints of a negative attitude toward Islam, much as they did in the 19th century on the subject of balck slavery in the American south.

To say “After all, other Muslim-majority countries have elected female heads of state”, as if this shows that women’s rights are not being violated in many Islamic countries is disingenuous. Surely the author knows that women politicians can be involved in laws that violate otehr women’s rights just as much as men politicians can. 

Another dubious thread in this essay is that, whereas one is justified in vilifying certain implementations of communism, one cannot condemn the concept itself. I take issue with that. Surely anyone who has the slightest insight into human nature can see that joint ownership of all property is a sure road to disaster. Mr. Orwell has presented convincing fictional visions of this in Animal Farm and in 1984. Of course, in a free market, free society, people who want to live in a communal way can always do so in small voluntary enclaves.

Friday, April 29, 2016

A few more thoughts regarding atheism and agnosticism:

One must distinguish a belief in one of the gods of the world’s religions from an open, and wondering attitude about there being some kind of mind behind the universe (maybe even behind the “multiverse”, if there is such). I think many of us physicists that study the strange and intricate mathematical laws that seem to underlie the material world may often entertain such speculations (though perhaps there is a tendency to not want to admit it for fear of appearing philosophically “soft”).

Maybe when one says he/she is an atheist, one must specify the particular “god” one does not believe in. As Dawkins and other “New Atheists” have often said, virtually everyone today is an atheist with regard to Zeus or Jupiter. And I agree that the Gods as portrayed in the Bible or the Koran are almost certainly inventions of the human mind, party motivated by wishful thinking about the promise of a glorious afterlife.
But beings such as the oft-heard example of the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” are really off the mark, as these are presumably tangible, material creatures, in the same class as the Lochness monster, and in principle could be detected, if they did exist, via methods of investigative science. And these creatures are not, as far as I can tell, put forward to solve any metaphysical mystery.

Some will argue that the miracles described in the ancient scriptures violate what we know about how the physical world works, and what its limits are. Walking on water, parting the Red Sea, turning water into wine, and so on. This is certainly true, although I suppose if the alleged miracle supported some deep metaphysical truth and was a one time event for that purpose, then perhaps we could not dismiss it with certainty. In that regard, I disagree with Hume, who wrote, if I understand him, that we should disbelieve a miraculous event if we had not observed such things happening in our experience. But it seems hard to understand what deep truths would be supported by these miraculous events. So it seems rational to view them with extreme skepticism.

But, as for miracles: There are two huge mysteries, or seeming miracles, staring us all in the face every day, (1) the fact that there is something rather than nothing (the puzzle the philosopher Heidegger was know for being obsessed with), and (2) the mysterious property of animal consciousness, in particular, human consciousness, that has apparently allowed we humans to put together at least a tentative theory of how the physical world behave at the quantum level, far below the realm of our direct sensory experience.

I continue to be puzzled by the claims of many “New Atheists” that “there is not a shred of evidence” for a God or Deity. Once one understands the claim of a believer to be about a metaphysical reality, it then seems irrational to expect the believer to produce evidence of a physical nature. By contrast, a believer in the “Flying Spaghetti Monster” would be, quite rightly, be expected to produce physical evidence if he is to be taken seriously.

I for one am humbled by the mysteries of existence and consciousness cited above, and while it is not clear that a god, deity, gods could solve or explain them, they are why I am inclined to say I am an agnostic. If there is a position that is called “agnostic theism”, it might come close to describing me.

Monday, April 25, 2016

In defense of Sam Harris:

I just watched a conversation between Abby Martin and her brother about the (somewhat controversial) New Atheist Sam Harris, a contemporary intellectual that I usually (though not always) to agree with. The video can be seen here.

This is just too painful to watch in its entirety. In just the first few minutes, the Martin siblings make so many assertions about Sam Harris that are wrong that my exasperation threshold is pegged. I have read a lot of Sam Harris's writings, and nowhere does he say that we should intervene in muslim theocracies. Far from "hating" muslims, as the Martins keep asserting, he is trying to enlighten them through rational discussions, and hopes to eventually convince not only muslims themselves but also misguided "multiculturalists" in the west to question and reject harmful concepts such as Sharia law.

It is true that he does, as do I, dislike many aspects of Islam. I would hope any rational person, who really cares about kindness, human freedom, and love would similarly be critical of a great many aspects of islam.

And they seem to think that criticism of Islam is somehow "racist", something I find indefensible. How many times do we have to point out that a religion is not a race?

By the Martin sibling’s logic, or, more correctly, the lack thereof, a person who criticized black slavery in the US south in the mid 1800’s would be accused of “racism”, not only against black people (for example, arguing something like “they are happy as slaves”), but also against the slave owners who were of largely different ethnic stock than those in the northern (free) states.

I wish the Martin's would give references to the insulting charges they make against Harris. From what I have read of him, almost all of their claims are either lies, or at best, based on misunderstandings of his arguments. But since Harris writes in a clear, easy to understand manner, I suspect that there is some hidden agenda of the Martins, and they deliberately lie to advance it. What would this agenda be, I wonder?

Monday, January 18, 2016

Reservations with Materialism, and Reflections on the Mind-Body Problem

Physics has succeeded brilliantly in explaining many features of the inanimate universe. The basic picture involves, at the most basic level, collisions and interactions of particles and fields, with forces being the cause of how the particles and fields interact with each other, and move through space-time.

But in this picture, it is not at all clear how matter particles could clump together into objects, i.e., animals, that have seem to have some kind of self awareness and that apparently experience conscious thoughts. More ever, some of these clumped objects (e.g., human animals) that have, by the materialist hypothesis, formed from blind forces, yet have systems of thoughts--theories--that seem to go a long way toward explaining how the universe works.

In other words, we would have to imagine that the laws of physics and chemistry have somehow accidentally given rise to brains, and currents within brains, that correspond thoughts that allow us to understand these laws. There seems to a paradox, or at least an absurd circularity, in that vision of how a clumped object can generate thoughts that partly explain itself.

Bertrand Russell posed the idea of “conscious life as an accident” with great eloquence in his classic essay A Free Man’s Worship:

....Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms........A strange mystery it is that Nature, omnipotent but blind, in the revolutions of her secular hurryings through the abysses of space, has brought forth at last a child, subject still to her power, but gifted with sight, with knowledge of good and evil, with the capacity of judging all the works of his unthinking Mother.”

Hmmm…"accidental collocations of atoms". But, are there really any accidents? In the deterministic picture of reality, the universe as a whole is simply unfolding according to fixed laws that have no “wiggle room” for anything happening that is not in a sense “programmed into” the universe. In other words, there are no accidents, nor is there any novelty, in the mechanistic picture; everything unfolds deterministically, from the time of the Big Bang to the “closing seconds” of the universe. The motions and dynamics may at times be chaotic, but chaotic process are still deterministic---just not predictable.

Quantum mechanics, which is the way we humans at the moment understand the sub-microscopic world of particles and fields, suggests that only when a conscious observer interacts with a sub-system within the universe can “novelty” enter the time evolution of the universe. The cosmologist Andre Linde has written that, in effect, the quantum state of the universe as a whole, absent conscious observers, is independent of time, and hence static, or frozen, in space-time.

Consider, accepting for the moment the materialist picture of consciousness, that if thoughts result from the physics of particles interacting in a deterministic way, then our thoughts are not determined by logic and reason, because they are determined by external causes (pushes and pulls from the blind forces of nature, just as with inanimate matter). So this seems to, in turn, undermine the validity of our theories of physics because the thinking and reasoning leading to them have been just due to the actions of blind, non-rational, forces.

Maybe trying to understand consciousness is like trying to imagine how a person in a totally dark room with only a flashlight can shine the light on the flashlight to examine and understand the flashlight. In a similar way, the conscious observer may simply be forever logically prevented from objectively viewing his/her self, because his/her consciousness can only examine things outside of it.

Another analogy is imagining a person sweeping a room, and sweeping the dirt under the rug. What does he then do with the dirt under the rug? He can’t sweep that under the rug.

If reasoning in an animal brain is a pattern of billiard balls colliding and interacting, as the entire process of the universe is assumed to be in a mechanistic physics perspective, doesn’t that seem to undermine the validity of reason? Or at least make it seem to be “over determined”. By overdetermined, I refer to the situation where something is attributed to two or more incompatible causes, or an accusation is rebutted by two or more incompatible alibis. For example, suppose you say I damaged the umbrella you loaned me. I respond that not only did I never borrow it, but it was already damaged when I borrowed it. Or as in Woody Allen’s clever joke about how “Einstein said the laws of physics say that you can’t go faster than the speed of light. It is also undesirable, because at that speed your hat would keep blowing off”.

Now none of this is to say that the brain is not involved in conscious thought. Indeed, that it is seems to be true almost beyond a doubt. I think the brain is a necessary thing for thought, consciousness, and reason. It's just not sufficient by itself. Some have proposed that the brain is a type of antenna, whereby thoughts are generated through some combination of an underlying substrate of consciousness and the organic matter of the brain. It must be admitted that it is not clear how to experimentally broach this idea. It would, in any case, explain why, under surgical anesthetic, conscious thought seems to cease.

I favor a type of dualism, similar to (but different than) a model that long the philosopher Rene Descartes proposed, namely that “mind” and “matter” constitute a dual reality.  Descartes’ view is called “Cartesian Dualism”, because he considered mind and matter to be fundamentally different substances.

Well, I am inclined to look at it this way: There is a "bottom up" approach to reality, which leads to trying to understand and characterize the physics of the microcosm, and attempts to explain systems larger than the microcosm in terms of that derived physics understanding. But there is a top down approach, which recognizes that high level phenomena have emerged; such things as love of friends and family, passions for various subjects, the beauty of music, painting, literature, and nature. It recognizes (or assumes) the existence and validity of values, thoughts, reason, consciousness and free will.

The duality I speak of here, based partly on my understanding of the “cognitive dualism” model of philosopher Roger Scruton, recognizes both “top up” and “bottom down” realms as both being valid and yet independent of each other. Yes, there is a powerful desire among us humans to unify the bottom up and top down approaches. But for reasons I have discussed above I do not think this is possible, because the bottom up approach, if carried all the way to its logical conclusion, undermines itself. We should just recognize the two visions of the world as being equally valid, yet irreconcilable, and neither being fully understandable in terms of the other.

Interestingly, there is a precedent for this kind of seeming paradox in quantum physics: Just like in quantum mechanics particle are paradoxically both waves or particles, depending on what kind of experiment is involved. That is, in certain contexts, a microscopic particle, e.g., a photon, is a particle, in others, it behaves like a wave. Classically, i.e., in our macro-world, the two pictures of a particle are incompatible, but apparently Nature does not care. She says, “Sorry, but that’s just the way it is. Why would you expect your macro-world evolved brains to understand how that can be?”

Does any of this mean we have to postulate a “God’ or “gods” that is responsible for the mind being partly inexplicable in physics terms? Well, that would be a possible argument, but not one that necessarily follows. And a God/Gods hypothesis raises a great many problematic questions, such as “who made God/gods?” There are plausible responses to that, but I do not wish to go into that area in the present essay.

In any case, the issues discussed herein are all tied in with the questions about why there is a universe at all, and is there any purpose to existence. No one knows the answers, but I do not think it is foolish to ask the questions (even knowing that we cannot expect to find clear cut answers).

One possibility that must be considered is that consciousness is somehow embedded in the cosmos from the get-go....i.e., present in some way in the “Big Bang”. When carried to an extreme, this kind of thinking can give rise to “Panpsychism”, which imagines that all matter, animate as well as inanimate, has some type of consciousness. (Speaking for myself, I have trouble believing that a rock, or a hunk of metal, is conscious, so I tend to give that very little weight).

Another slightly different approach--and there are many variations on this---is to insist that consciousness is actually more fundamental than the physical world. In other words, the goals of the materialist, that strive to explain consciousness from motions of matter, is turned up-side down. I believe some of the thinking inspired by Eastern religions finds the “primacy of consciousness” congenial.

This also all bears on a question that is very hotly debated in the western world these days, and that is the question of whether human-kind can create “artificial beings (robots or androids) that are conscious, and that are quite possibly vastly more intelligent and much more quick thinking  than humans. The consensus seems to be “yes”. If so, this would perhaps give credence to the materialist position.

But not necessarily, since, if consciousness is in some way embedded in the very stuff of the universe (not going all the way to panpsychism), it is plausible that conscious beings could impart consciousness to other beings that they create.

Of course all the above considerations lead into other perplexing puzzles such as “do we, or the androids, have free will?” (whatever that concept might mean). Certainly, on the mechanistic picture, the answer would be no, since in that picture all is just deterministic motions of particles. But even the dualism proposed above does not provide a clear path to free will.

Quantum mechanics does, at first sight, seem to offer a way out of determinism. But this is not really true, since the state of a physical system (as represented by its “wave function”) is predicted to evolve in a deterministic way until it is observed. And if conscious beings are always part of the system comprised of the physical universe, observations by such beings within the universe do not really interrupt the deterministic evolution of the universe.
Even if we allow that QM does offer a way out, there is still the problem of determinism from the all inclusiveness of “nature plus nurture”, which seems to exhaust the possible reasons for a person’s actions and thoughts. That is, every thing we can imagine a conscious being to do seems to be due to a combination of its physical makeup (e.g. its genes) and its life experiences. There appear to be no other options that would allow any sense to be made of “free will”.