The Brain as a Detector

The (current) view of physics is that there is no color in the life-less physical universe: there are only electromagnetic waves of different wavelengths (frequencies).

But the marvelously wonderful human (and some other) brains have optical systems that see the differing frequencies as different colors.

Now there are two ways of interpreting this:

1. The enormously complex brain has the unique capacity to turn some e.m. Waves into color which simply doesn’t exist in the universe.

2. The universe has two quite different kinds of characteristics: The physically tangible and the physically intangible. The latter are latent dimensions of the universe, which only a complex system like the brain can render explicit. Somewhat like a painting that simply cannot come into existence without a paper or a canvass or a plane surface, color and meaning and order and symmetry are implicit aspects of the universe, which the human brain (or similar structures) alone can actualize. According to interpretation (mine) meaning and mathematics are very much intrinsic to the universe, but just as we can never become aware of double star systems and or spiral galaxies without a telescope, one needs a brain to become aware of these.

What we sometimes call an emergent property is analogous to the “emergence” of pulsars when the sky is scanned with a radio telescope.

What is Science?

There are perhaps a hundred different definitions of science on none of which there may be consensus. These definitions are not unlike the descriptions of the elephant by the six blind men: all of whom were partially right, but none totally so.

Recognizing this, let me offer my own definition and description of science, subject to the same constraint as any other.

“Science is a collective trans-national effort by Homo sapiens to understand, appreciate, and explain every aspect of perceived reality that has been acquired through thorough and systematic observation with the aid of instruments, concepts, and mathematical methods (when possible) in a coherent, consistent, sharable, verifiable, and rational framework, with the conviction that there are no supernatural entities behind natural phenomena.”

The totality of understanding and interpretation thus acquired constitutes the scientific knowledge of a given period. This knowledge is always in a dynamic state, susceptible to modification, improvement, and even total replacement as a result of further scientific activity.

There may be other modes of grasping other dimensions reality (presumed or actual), but the criteria for accepting their validity are different from the ones adopted by science: coherence, consistency, rationality, sharability, and trans-national verifiability.

V. V. Raman

Three Kinds of Time and Objective Reality

There are at least three aspects of time: experiential, conceptual, and physical. Experiential time may drift ever so slowly (often for the young, who are impatient for adulthood) or flee all too fast (especially as one approaches the precipitous terminal cliff at an advanced age). Experiential time is perhaps the most insubstantial element in human consciousness. It is with us all through our waking hours, apparently drifting silently and ceaselessly in the external world as well as within the very core of our being.
Conceptual time is like an imaginary straight line that can extended to infinity in either direction, taking us to realms way beyond the bracket whose bounds cosmologists proclaim as the big bang and heat-death. It has no beginning and no end, just an imaginary stretch the mind constructs.
Then there is the steady flow of physical time in a given frame of reference, the sort that is measured by physicists and chronometers, taking advantage of periodic changes, either at the lunar and stellar levels or at the microcosmic domain of atomic transitions. Physical time, as per current cosmology, had its birth with the big bang and was nonexistent prior to this ignition of the physical world.
Theologians have argued about whether God created time. The simple answer could be, “Of course God did, for did not God create everything?” Or, “Certainly not, since there was no God prior to thinking man.” In other words, the two simple answers depend on whether a person is a theist or an atheist. The Svetasvatara Upanishad describes God as the “architect of time”: kâlakâro. For Pythagoras, time was the soul of the world.
What is relevant to recognize is that experiential time plays a role when we are bored or having fun, conceptual time comes into the fore when we are logically analyzing the nature of time, and physical time matters when we are doing serious physics or cosmology.
Shakespeare once described time as both our parent and our grave. Indeed, each one of us tastes a slice of time, and when the lights go off in conscious life, we drop out of the steady stream in which we seem to be drifting. It is conscious life that perceives the presence of the stream. When we are thrown into the invisible stream of physical time, it turns into experiential time, a portion of a stream that continues indefinitely. What we do during that interval is what really matters.

V.V. Raman appears with Brian Leftow, the Rev. Dr. John Polkinghorne, Ernan McMullin, William Lane Craig, and Robert Russell in “Did God Create Time?” the 24th episode in the Closer to Truth: Cosmos, Consciousness, God TV series, hosted and created by Robert Lawrence Kuhn. The series airs Thursdays on the PBS HD network and many other PBS stations. Every Friday, participants will share their views on the previous day’s episode.


Ted K said…
St. Augustine asked what is time, and finding it difficult to answer started to wonder whether time is not a distentio mentis, that is, a product of the human mind itself. Emmanuel Kant was more forceful in showing it to be the form of our inner sense, so that it is the human mind that puts temporal order into the world as we know and percieve it. That is the way God created us. Physical time, in that case, is a product of the human mind as much as the objects we see, and therefore science, as knowledge of the world as it is in itself, is impossible. Would the author care to define what he means by physical time?
V.V. Raman said…
“Science, as knowledge of the world as it is in itself, is impossible.”That is a well-known argument against science and objectivity.

1. The point is, there is no other kind of consistent, coherent, rational understanding of perceived reality available to the human brain that has been as successful in its explanatory efforts or as proved to be as fruitful its applications knowledge thus acquired.

2. What science does is to surmise the best it can how the world would/could be without the presence of the human mind in it.
It is that surmised world that one calls objective reality.

3. “Would the author care to define what he means by physical time?”

In that world there was time before the emergence of Man on the planet, and there will be time after all of us (including all our descendents) have disappeared from this earth.
It is that time I can physical time: it is independent of you and me and is measured by chronometers which can continue to tick away even when and where no humans exist.
Conceptual time and experiential time arise when we come into physical time as conscious entities.

On Religious Conversions

Our scientific understanding of the world arises from systematic exploration of the natural world and/or by learning about the results of such studies. However, this calls for serious study, experimentation, clarity of analysis, and the like. The scientific understanding of the physical world can be enriching and uplifting, but it is not required for everyday living.

Our religious affiliation often arises from how and where we are brought up.

We are enriched spiritually and humanized ethically by enlightened religious guidance. Every religion lauds the glory of God. Someone said here recently that extolling the glory of God is something Hindu. True enough, but is also Jewish: Hebrew psalms extol God’s glory.  Christians sing in Church: in exelsis Deo (in God’s Glory). Arab Muslims sometimes greet with the phrase: al-hamdu lillah (glory to God), In the Bible we read: all to the glory of God.

As we grow and acquire new knowledge and experience, our religious convictions are strengthened or weakened, confirmed or unconfirmed, depending on our by personal experiences. Often in the face of deep disappointment, in context of facing some difficult, even unbearable situations, while reflecting on social injustices, natural disasters, and the like, one refines, modifies, rejects or switches one’s religious beliefs.

Proselytizing religions do not subscribe to this (from our point of view enlightened) view of religion. Traditionally, they believed that they convert people in order to <save> their souls from a terrible after-life (called Hell).

Right or wrong, as a result of their zeal, today those religions (Christianity + Islam) together have more than three billion adherents of all races and in all regions, whereas Hindus number barely 900 million.

There can also be intra-religious conversion. This can be of two kinds: (a) sectarian: e.g. Catholics to Protestants; Vaishnavism to Shaivism (rare these days); (b) interpretations unenlightened to enlightened: Orthodox to Reformed Judaism, caste-observing to caste-rejecting Hinduism; traditional to Unitarian Christianity.

February 26, 2009