How can mere matter make mind? How can a biological system of cells and chemicals and electrical impulses --- a brain --- be the seat of something that thinks and feels and is aware that it is doing so?

Not too many years ago, the obvious answer was, "It can't". The laws of chemistry and physics were so incompletely known that there was no way to plausibly explain life, much less intelligence. Today far more is understood, and although the gaps are still huge a sketch of consciousness is dimly emerging. During the next several decades, with steady progress, models of how we think will become increasingly detailed.

The phrase "mere matter" is a major misnomer! Matter is far from "mere". The more closely we examine the universe, the more obvious it is that nature's building blocks are marvelous, on all scales of space and time. And even more magical is the mathematics that combines fundamental particles and fields to make complexity.

There's no reason to be afraid of understanding mind, any more than there was reason to fear understanding the solar system, or the processes that create canyons and mountains, or the circulation of the blood, or the rules of genetic inheritance. Better explanations of natural phenomena always enrich us. They give us new capabilities to do good, if we are wise enough so to choose. Understanding nature adds meaning and beauty to life. Let us be brave. How could knowing our own minds, the most important part of our humanity, be otherwise?

Monday, July 19, 1999 at 20:08:47 (EDT) = Datetag19990719

TopicMind - TopicScience

(correlates: ManyWorlds, 3 Comments on StrongCoffee, BigPictureFallacy, ...)