What is real? What are our representations about it worth? Philosophy carefully scrutinizes these representations by its various metaphysical branches, but it knows nothing about their overall authenticity. These models could be congratulating each other and seriously mistaken on the reality itself. Is the powerlessness to explain a riddle such as consciousness an indication of a fundamental error? How was this question of authenticity approached?
The classics and the moderns
In classical thought, the mind had to rise above appearances to access a higher knowledge, closer to the essence of things. With scientific thought the higher knowledge is given to us: it is the experimental method, accompanied by its mathematical models, that approaches us to things per se. Some authors contrast these two ways of thinking, but they have great similarities. Both are rational, looking for rules. Science has stolen superior knowledge to the gods to give it back to the human mind, but the direction remains the same: it is always knowledge that gives shape to reality. Knowledge is part of human identity before it is applied to reality.
The only real difference, it seems, is that science gives reality the possibility of having created itself. However, it is also implicit in classical and theistic thought. It is necessary that reality has found a relative independence from ideals / God, to exist as an imperfection. The devil, and other misconduct of the world, have created themselves, since they cannot be found in the ideal. God contains a self-created devil whose reduction makes imperfect, just as the self-created scientific mind is an imperfect reduction of knowledge in the midst of the Real.
Let’s protect the conflict
It is not the opposition between these two thoughts that is interesting but the fact that both use an opposition, that between real and spirit, between the whole and one of its parts. When these thoughts do not resort to such opposition, they result in sterile variants: materialist idealism, which makes fundamental physics the only reality, the mind becoming illusion; and spiritual idealism, which does the opposite: matter is an emanation of spirit devoid of authentic existence. These two solipsisms, that of matter and that of spirit, ignore each other like angry neighbors. They cross paths every day without having the slightest explanation about each other’s lives.
Preserving the opposition between spirit and reality is therefore essential. But we must keep it constructive, not make it sterile by a radical dualism. Indeed, if we totally separate spirit and reality, how can we account for the influence they exert on each other? This influence is the first of our experiments. Each spirit experiences itself as an intention capable of changing the course of the world. An unpleasant feeling accompanies failure, pushing the mind to adapt the forms of its intention. Self-creation.
Real hard and soft intentions
Opposite, the material world seems to be subject to great universal laws. All the stones fall without being able to bend their course. The sun rises every morning. Its power may have disguised it as a divine being. But it seems unable not to get up every morning. Any intention, even laziness, which is to renounce an intention, seems foreign to it. If it has been the subject of a creation it does not seem to be the owner.
The intentions of the mind are not uniform, however. They even have very variable strengths, from reflexes to long-matured thoughts. Here is already that brings us closer to the stone and its ‘fall reflex’. How, then, to establish a satisfactory continuity between spiritual creation and material obedience?
The elastic is flexible but wants to keep its shape
The connection was not made overnight. The mind has strong reluctance to establish it. Why? Simply because in this relationship it itself is modified. Intentions that believe they are free are modified. By compromising itself with matter, the spirit is contaminated by its obedience. But the spirit is formed of intentions that want to exist, to persist. Their survival is supported by a desire that does not even exist in the body, except in the state of physiological routine. The intentions of the spirit refuse to die even more than the body.
The reluctance of the mind to change is both the handicap and the source of science’s success. Handicap because it is difficult to change the image of reality in the mind. Success because it is easier to change the image of reality, still largely unknown, than the image of the mind about it. The mind self-deifies to protect itself. Its representations of God are an idealization of itself. Not surprisingly, religions are opponents of change. They are always extremely powerful about the ideas people have about themselves.
When the elastic breaks
While their power fades about physical reality, which we do not own. Religions erect walls around the mind but cannot assert anything about the nature of matter. Or when they do, it is a sign of radicalization, of solipsism of the mind about reality. They lose favor in open, complete minds. These are then reinvested by science and get back on track, accepting the transformations that inevitably affect them in their relationship to reality. But how does science manage to communicate with reality?
The fishing contest
As already said, the connection was not made in a day. The scientist is a fisherman by the deep lake of reality. She wonders what things can live in the depths. An idea comes to her by scrutinizing the appearance of the surface, the only level for the moment accessible. She forms a hook with this idea, throws it at the end of a thread under the surface. If reality bites it brings up something consistent with her idea. Otherwise she forges another hook. She experiments.
Every successful fishing specifies the things that live at that depth. A new idea is forming about what lies underneath. A suitable hook is launched, the result examined. Knowledge is progressing, one level after another, towards the depth of this lake which no one knows if it has a bottom.
How does the idea take shape, more precisely, in the mind of the scientist? She establishes a framework for the level to be studied. This framework is of course inspired by what she already knows about reality. Luckily, some principles seem universal: space, time, causality. Nevertheless, as it is necessary to leave ownership to reality, doubt still persists as to their true universality. The classical Newtonian framework, despite its scientific rigor, is still a religion of the mind about reality. Obsolete, it is still used by the vast majority of humanity. The inertia of the mind is not an empty word.
The fisherman becomes a bit fishy
Any hook thrown at great depth can arrive in an entirely different setting. This is the discomfort that the mind must face, quietly installed in its familiar space-time. It is not ready to give back the entire ownership of its frames to reality. It must be further integrated. How can one feel that one exists in a nothingness of substance, occupied purely by mathematical abstractions? Einstein’s mind balked at the loss of quantum space locality. Contemporary physicists are reluctant to banish substance, which has become useless in their universe of pure information.
Thus the inertia of the mind plays its role. How far can it transform without getting lost? Doesn’t the reduction to its wheels have destructive effects?
Loss of identity card
What meaning do intentions retain if they are entirely broken down? An intention is in principle independent of its components. It is a fusion and not the satisfaction of each of its elements. An intention is not intended to reinforce reality as it is, but on the contrary to detach oneself from it. Isn’t science restraining this effort, then, by bringing the wheels back to the forefront? Scientists’ intentions fade over time. Is it a simple effect of age or the consequence of the replacement of energetic intentions in their blindness by others more subservient to reality?
It is not in reality that the small revolution linked to each of the knowledge occurs, but in the mind. Unfortunately, none of these revolutions are part of the genetic heritage of the organism, contrary to the primitive intentions of the mind. Each generation must relearn everything… if learning is implemented. Where education does not exist, or fails to uplift young minds, primitive intentions persist. Religions continue to protect them with thick walls.
Inhumanity fostered by science… as much as its refusal
Advances in science have thus had this inevitable side effect: Humanity has split into subspecies housed in contrasting habitats, some lined with books, others with icons, or weapons, each seeking to transform the habitat of the other for its own benefit.
To cut one’s mind off from reality, to keep it safe behind sectarian walls, is ultimately to remain human… even in one’s inhumanity.