Pearl of Great Price
We know from introspection that we are aware of the world, and
aware of ourselves observing the world. When we calculate the value
of our fellow creatures' lives, how closely they come toward us in
this regard seems to be a major variable. We stomp on insects with
little concern for lost life. But everyone would rather see a
retired race-horse put out to pasture than done away with. Since
consciousness is such a major feature of biological life, one would
think any theories touching upon how that life came to be would
center around it.
One would be wrong. If evolution takes notice of any such thing,
it offers no meaningful explanation. How could consciousness arise
in a universe where no such thing had ever previously existed nor
been provided for? Don't bother asking.
"The existence of consciousness is both one of the most
familiar and one of the most astounding things about the world. No
conception of the natural order that does not reveal it as something
to be expected can aspire even to the outline of completeness. And
if physical science, whatever it may have to say about the origin of
life, leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, that
shows that it cannot provide the basic form of intelligibility for
this world." (Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, p. 53).
The 'Blind Watchmaker' does not know the value of his purported
innovation, consciousness, any more than the oyster knows the value
of the pearl it is coalescing around an invasive grain of sand. Is
this plausible? Their theory does not produce consciousness as a natural
or inevitable consequence of the world; indeed some of them deny it
exists, the more conveniently to avoid having to explain it.
Modern science began with a conviction that seekers should look
to their own experience, rather than focusing on grammatical skills
in defining things such as were then valued in scholastic science.
But alas, contemporary science devalues our experience, stridently
demanding that we ignore it. We are, after all, ignorant and prone
to error: "For our ancestors, dreams, hallucinations, revelations,
and cock-and-bull stories were inextricably mixed with facts. .
.Whatever you imagined in a lively manner, whatever you thought fit
to be true, you affirmed confidently; and whatever you affirmed,
your comrades believed." (William James, Varieties of Religious
Experience, Lecture XX, Kindle location 6809). No one ever thought a
true thought prior to the mid-nineteenth century, when reductive
materialism came into vogue. Such obvious and inevitable inferences
hostile to reductive materialism, as the old logical principles that
intelligibility implies intelligence, or that there must be an equal
degree of reality in the cause as in the effect, must be discarded.
Why evolution had produced such dysfunctional minds in a cruel and
hostile environment went unexplained, although as those who have
studied the system understand, Darwin's theory has not yet made up
its mind whether it intends to explain why organisms are adapted to
their environment or why they are maladapted. They must be one or
the other, after all, and a theory which confidently predicts,
'Both!' must succeed in any event.
We know our own minds, to an extent, by introspection. When we
see evidence of sympathy or like-mindedness in the skies, as in a
beautiful sunset, we are tempted to shout 'Bravo!' But we must
stifle that thought, as virtually all other obvious and inescapable
thoughts we might entertain. The artist who sketched the sunset is
blind, oblivious to the aesthetic value of His work. Or so they say.
We see in His hand, what we might have liked to produce, had we
been similarly gifted or so situated. We are artists too, or at
least would like to be. Now they tell us we are bubbles, mere froth: "The bubbles on the foam
which coats a stormy sea are floating episodes, made and unmade by
the forces of the wind and water. Our private selves are like those
bubbles — epiphenomena, as Clifford, I believe, ingeniously
called them; their destinies weigh nothing and determine nothing in
the world's irremediable currents of events." (William James,
Varieties of Religious Experience, Lecture XX, Kindle location
6747; in fairness, James himself considers this viewpoint "shallow"). But what if we are not mere epiphenomena, but a type of
entity intrinsic to the world? What if we did not parachute in from
some other universe, but actually belong here? What if our little
minds do from time to time catch intimations of the larger mind at
work behind it all? 'Because nothing like a mind can exist in the
world.' . . .but we do. It still remains the simplest and most
economical explanation for a work of art, that an artist made it.
Since we do know, from our experience, what a 'mind' is like, you
would think we would exploit our privileged position for all it is
worth instead of stifling, stifling, stifling it. What if the pagan
Anaxagoras is right and this is a meaningful constituent of the
world? If the world really were like this, how would we know, since
we have closed off every avenue of information?