ETHICS ISSUES: SCIENCE and the MIND
“Mind is the complex of cognitive faculties that enables consciousness, thinking, reasoning, perception, feeling and judgment…” So says Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Notice that the term is mind, not the mind. Mind is not a physical thing, but instead a metaphysical ‘complex of faculties’ (abilities, capacities), a function of the brain and nervous system (things of substance). While mind is not material, it still is. Without it we would be not.
Your mind is yours alone, working within your individual self. It processes information that comes from without as well as what it itself generates, combining real and imagined data, random associations, unique experiences and every other input seen or unseen, heard or unheard, touched or untouched, smelled or unsmelled, tasted or not, to create an increasingly unique (metaphysical) structure. The process doesn’t follow a direct path from here to there, but adapts with every new connection, unplanned but not random, moving unalterably toward its only goal–more. Neither communal nor predictable, it constantly, automatically and individually just becomes. And you cannot stop it!
Initially we’ll just consider consciousness and perception because they are universals not requiring processing. Thinking, reasoning and judgment are more properly mind processes; they use perceived information to create new information from what the mind generates of itself.
Consciousness, the essence of life, being universal, exists apart from as well as within the person; perception, another word for awareness, tends to be passive. Consciousness is a given, a first principle, an integral and eternal part of the universe that cannot be separated from the universe and without which humanity cannot exist. Perception is how the mind receives information from our environment, which includes that same universe (“everything that isn’t you,” according to Albert Einstein).
That part of the quintessential life force residing in the individual you is the consciousness—spirituality—that identifies your personality. That consciousness is who you are—yourself. Some call it soul.
While we readily apprehend what the mind does by way of perception (sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch), it’s not so simple to comprehend random thought, curiosity, imagination, conscience and other intangibles that the brain does seemingly on its own.
Intelligence is variously described in terms of mind processes: abstract thought, understanding, self-awareness, learning, reasoning, retaining knowledge, planning, problem-solving; William H. Calvin (Evolving Intelligence, Then and Now) says ’intelligence is guessing well,’ and that “…the mystery of intelligence and consciousness can(must?) be solved… on the level of neurons, synapses and cortical layers.”
All of which brings us to metaphysics.
Metaphysics goes before (and beyond) physics and, in fact, beyond what we perceive as physical reality. Metaphysics deals with ideas “…on the level of neurons, synapses and cortical layers.” Denounced by much of popular science because of its philosophical context and general inability to be defined with precision, the metaphysical is at least as valid as the physical. It’s just abstract, rather than tangible.
In fact, metaphysics enables physics and the whole of science itself and, by virtue of its superior rank, can’t possibly be disproved using one of its products (the scientific method).
Science’s explanations are in terms of its own framework which is not absolute. Scientific principle includes a handful of laws that are really assumptions–no more than known truths that cannot be proven—first principles (think: gravity, the electromagnetic field). Much of physical science was based on an assumption that the universe is an orderly entity. (But we now know that it’s not; it is expanding—literally, flying apart.) If its very cornerstone is arbitrary, can science have any really rational basis? Yet we assume that it does as if we understood it perfectly. (In fact, we tend to fashion our explanations in terms that we can handle, even if unprovable and/or less than perfect.)
The only problem (if indeed there is one) of metaphysics is contextual—it has no truly scientific frame of reference. Metaphysics, being abstract, operates in the domain of the sublime–literally, a higher state–a dimension beyond the four that we deal with on a daily basis. And the mind, in providing the brain with its thinking process, provides access to the sublime.
While we cannot know or even imagine its scope at this stage of human development, our minds enable us to realize—literally make real—that which we can comprehend, and create even more.
Apparently there have been times in human history during which the resources of the mind were drawn upon to an extent unequaled by succeeding cultures, times during which mankind was able to break loose of its physical bonds to tap the resources of the sublime. Why these gains were not permanent we do not know. However, that they were not suggests that something important may have been lost, to be rediscovered at another time. Perhaps now?
The current problem is that we’ve largely cast our lot with science/technology and its singular preoccupation with the physical world defined in its own terms. We have to go before science, to take a fresh look at philosophy.
Once we choose to use every resource available to us to look beyond the physical environment that daily overwhelms our five senses, we can begin to consider the metaphysical. It is only that we limit ourselves by left-brain rational thinking that prevents our minds from automatically elevating mankind to a higher level.
We have the minds to do it. All we need is the mind to do it. Extreme? Ethics to the max.