“The Ultimate Mystery” –Human Consciousness: ‘We’re Like Neanderthals Trying to Understand Astronomy’


Without mind, there might as well be nothing. Colin McGinn at the University of Miami, believes that no matter how much scientists study the brain, the mind is fundamentally incapable of comprehending itself. “We’re rather like Neanderthals trying to understand astronomy or Shakespeare,” McGinn said. Human brains suffer from a “cognitive gap” in understanding their own consciousness.”

“Is it possible that consciousness may exist by itself, even in the absence of matter, just like gravitational waves, excitations of space, may exist in the absence of protons and electrons?” asks Andrei Linde, Russian-American theoretical physicist and the Harald Trap Friis Professor of Physics at Stanford University. “Will it not turn out, with the further development of science, that the study of the universe and the study of consciousness will be inseparably linked, and that ultimate progress in the one will be impossible without progress in the other?”

Recently, Princeton physicist Edward Witten, who has been compared to Isaac Newton and Einstein, addressed the problem of human consciousness. Witten is largely responsible for the popularity of string theory over the past several decades. String theory holds that all of nature’s forces stem from infinitesimal particles wriggling in a hyperspace consisting of many extra dimensions.

Witten is pessimistic about our ability to comprehend the origins of human consciousness: “I think consciousness will remain a mystery. Yes, that’s what I tend to believe. I tend to think that the workings of the conscious brain will be elucidated to a large extent. Biologists and perhaps physicists will understand much better how the brain works. But why something that we call consciousness goes with those workings, I think that will remain mysterious. I have a much easier time imagining how we understand the Big Bang than I have imagining how we can understand consciousness.”

“The universe and the observer exist as a pair. I cannot imagine a consistent theory of the universe that ignores consciousness,” says Linde. This the great question –perhaps the central unsolved mystery of the 21st Century. Linde is one of the world’s leading proponents of the inflationary universe theory. The paragraph below from Linde’s essay Universe, Life, Consciousness brilliantly examines this great question.

According to standard materialistic doctrine, consciousness, like space-time before the invention of general relativity, plays a secondary, subservient role, being considered just a function of matter and a tool for the description of the truly existing material world. But let us remember that our knowledge of the world begins not with matter but with perceptions. I know for sure that my pain exists, my “green” exists, and my “sweet” exists. I do not need any proof of their existence, because these events are a part of me; everything else is a theory.

The Daily Galaxy via Andrei Linde, Universe, Life, Consciousness and Scientific American

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