Unraveling Reality {46}

Matterism

With dualism downed, reality must instead be a monism. Scientists tout matterism: the metaphysical belief that measurable matter and energy are fundamental.

“Matterism is the view that only the physical world is irreducibly real, and that a place must be found in it for mind, if there is such a thing. This would continue the onward march of physical science, through molecular biology, to full closure by swallowing up the mind in the objective physical reality from which it was initially excluded. The assumption is that physics is philosophically unproblematic, and the main target of opposition is Descartes’ dualist picture of the ghost in the machine.” ~ American philosopher Thomas Nagel

The focus of matterism is matter. Energy is undeniable, but matterists make no attempt to account for energy beyond treating it as measurable by its effect on matter.

“Matterism purports to reduce all forces in Nature to action and reaction.” ~ Arthur Schopenhauer

“The ontology of matterism rested upon the illusion that the kind of existence, the direct ‘actuality’ of the world around us, can be extrapolated into the atomic range. This extrapolation, however, is impossible. Atoms are not things.” ~ Werner Heisenberg

Most saliently, matterism posits that consciousness and mentation are figments of the brain. Consciousness, coupled with the workings of the mind, is thought to come from cellular reactions of chemistry and electricity.

“Our own consciousness is a product of our brains.” ~ Canadian cognitive psychologist Steven Pinker

The grand delusion of matterism comes in confusing correlation with causality. Physical intelligence system activities, such as brain waves and chemical reactions, may synchronously coincide with mentation; but it’s not the brain telling the mind what to think.

 Mistakes

Consider mistakes. How well people bounce back from blunders depends upon what they believe about the nature of intelligence. Those who believe that savvy develops through effort view their flubs as learning opportunities. To those who hold that intelligence is fixed, mistakes indicate a lack of ability.

The mental response to mistakes differs between these two groups. Someone in the growth mindset becomes more attentive after making a mistake, and so their accuracy improves. This betterment does not occur in a person with a fixed mindset.

“A growth mindset is associated with heightened awareness and attention to errors as early as 200 ms following error commission.” ~ American psychologist Jason Moser et al

Moser and his colleagues found this out by experimentally measuring electrical brain activity of participants in tests designed to provoke errors, and later asking the participants their beliefs about intelligence.

“Larger amplitudes of event-related potentials – electrical brain signals elicited by events – are associated with adaptive behavioral adjustments, such as slower and more accurate responses following mistakes.” ~ Jason Moser et al

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“Nobody has the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious. Nobody even knows what it would be like to have the slightest idea how anything material could be conscious.” ~ American cognitive scientist Jerry Fodor

It is impossible to construe how the brain could create beliefs. Conversely, that the mind affects the body, including the brain, has repeatedly been demonstrated.

The effective potency of placebos is one of innumerable known examples of mind-over-matter which matterism cannot account for. Another broad area of immateriality at work involves the well-known deleterious effects that mental stresses have on the body. Conversely, whereas mental attitude can be curative, the brain has no such power.

 Caring & Control

Babies are motivated by the biological desire to find out how to effectively deal with their environment. From a tender age to one’s dying breath, people strive for control.

Most people gain greater control over their environment as they grow older. That trend is often abruptly reversed when infirmity strikes the elderly. Many aged people experience further decline after being institutionalized.

The consequences of such a loss of control usually include withdrawal, depression, and sometimes early death. Experimental studies with animals, including humans, amply demonstrate the negative effects of loss of control. ~ American psychologist and gerontologist Richard Schulz

In the mid-1970s Richard Schulz conducted an experiment on control among the institutionalized aged. A group of his undergraduate students visited old folks in a retirement home for 2 months. The visitors were strangers to the elderly people visited.

For the study, retirement home residents were divided into 4 groups. One group received no visits. A 2nd group was visited at random. A 3rd group was told when the visits would occur, and how long they would last, but otherwise they had no control over the visits.

The 4th group was given complete control over visitation: they could decide not only how long each visit lasted, but how often they were visited.

Residents who were most able to predict and control the visits became happier, healthier, and more hopeful than other residents. Their new-found zest for life meant more activity, less boredom, and fewer medications. They looked and acted less like old people. Schulz concluded that controllable visitation “actually reversed the pattern of progressive decline.”

The coda to this story is a sad one. Follow-on study showed that gloom again descended after the visits ended. The toll was especially high for those in the group able to regulate their visits. For them, losing the sense of control that had enlivened them was deadening. Their zest for living evaporated, and their health precipitously declined.

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“Having control over a stimulus means that it is predictable. It becomes important to ask, therefore, whether the ability to control adds something over and above the ability to predict.” ~ Richard Schulz

Schulz’s retirement home study showed that exerting control creates the ineffable product of inestimable value: joy. The jubilant bounty of living comes from exercising meaningful will.

“Total care for the aged is just as bad as no care at all. Other animal studies have demonstrated that organisms prefer working for positive reinforcement over securing them for free.” ~ Richard Schulz

 Meditation Sutras

“Whatever we put our attention on will grow stronger in our life.” ~ Maharishi Mahesh Yogi

Along with Transcendental Meditation®, Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi taught sutras: advanced meditation techniques for various purposes, including raising awareness of how Nature works.

One of the sutras was improving mind-body coordination, by desiring the body to have the “lightness of cotton fiber.” The sutra is practiced sitting in the lotus position, where it is physically impossible to jump and leave the ground. Yet, the outcome of practicing the akasha sutra is a levitation hop: going up ~1/2 meter and ~1 meter forward, at least for the author. The sutra momentarily suspends gravity around the meditator. Known physics has no explanation for how this is possible.

Maharishi also had a sutra for becoming invisible, but he did not teach it on a wide scale. The reason: whereas 90% succeeded in hopping, only 10% of seasoned meditators had positive results with invisibility.

Rather than risk frustration with practitioners, Maharishi left on the shelf what physicists would marvel to disbelieve even more than levitation. That light can be bent to conceal objects has been demonstrated; to do so at will is miraculous.

Maharishi taught that meditation was transcending to the ground state, and that the sutras were exercises in using the power of the vacuum state: the mind coherently attuned to cosmic energy. That sutras falter in performance emanates from the limits of individual consciousness.

Autism

Autism is characterized by impaired communication and social interaction, and restricted and repetitive behavior. Symptoms of autism usually manifest in the first 2 years of life. Boys are 5 times more likely to be autistic than girls.

Estimates of autism prevalence vary from 0.1% to over 1% of the population. Some 10% of autistics show extraordinary abilities, along with typical impairments. Amazing artistic, musical, mathematical, spatial, and mechanical talents are most common. Most savants have a single special skill, but some have more than one.

“The skill is staggering, and usually involves a remarkable memory.” ~ American psychologist Tammy Reynolds & American physician Mark Dombeck

The miraculous memory of autistic savants is rote, and typically limited to a specific subject or skill. Musical savants may be able to replicate a long, complex piece of music after a single listen. Some savants can dismantle and reassemble complex machines, such as clocks and radios, relying only on memory.

A savant may be able to tell you what the day of the week was on 7 January 1807, as well as the phase of the Moon; but the same savant may not be able to make change for a dollar.

Some savants can instantly tell the day of the week of any date. This is not rote memorization; instead, it is applying the calendar algorithm at inexplicable speed.

The cause of autism is not known. The condition is typically attributed to a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

“There appears to be a unique pattern of brain organization that underlies superior problem-solving abilities in children with autism.” ~ Indian American psychiatrist Vinod Menon

Menon assumes that electromagnetic waves measured near the brain means that the brain causes autism. Rather, all Menon discovered was that energetic activity near the brain is different in autistic people. Menon illustrates the unscientific propensity common among scientists, in assuming too much and confusing correlation with causality.

There are physical differences between the brains of autistic and normal people. Scientists conjecture how these distinctions might cause cognitive problems. The miraculous mental feats of autistic savants cannot be accounted for physiologically.

 Rain Man

American actor Dustin Hoffman portrayed an autistic savant in the 1988 movie Rain Man. The real-life person that the movie was based upon – Kim Peek – was not autistic.

Peek was a savant: able to perform extraordinary mathematical feats, and with miraculous memory. From 18 months, Peek could memorize books by seeing the left page in the left eye and right page in the right eye. He could read an 800-page book in an hour. By the time he was a teen, Peek could accurately recall at least 12,000 books.

Having memorized global maps, Peek could provide driving directions between any 2 cities in the world. At age 18, Peek accurately worked out a company payroll of 160 people within a few hours, without a calculator.

With an IQ of 87, Peek was unable to reason through mathematical problems, or follow directions. Peek relied entirely upon intuition.

Peek did not walk until he was 4 years old, and then in a sidelong manner. He constantly fidgeted; so much so that he was expelled from school at age 7, after just 7 minutes in class.

Peek was severely brain-damaged: with macrocephaly, a corroded cerebellum, and lacking the normal connections between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. Peek suffered from a rare genetic disease linked to a defective X chromosome. In Peek’s case, extensive brain damage made his mental abilities completely inexplicable physiologically.

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Beyond the powers of the human mind, matterism has no explanation for how organisms without identifiable brains could possibly behave intelligently, from microbes on up. The savvy of plants is indisputable, yet they have no physical system for cognition.

That the mind and body are entangled is obvious. The brain is not causal; nor, for that matter, is the mind, which plays its part as presenter of physicality via symbolic processing.

Matterism ignores modern physics: that matter is energy transposed, and that energy is a fabrication of Nature, which is a chimerical show. Adaptation – the irrefutable momentum behind biological evolution – cannot be explained via matterism.

There is a difference between the biomechanics by which adaptation appears to work, and the goal-directed process (teleology) by which it proceeds. Matterism can partly account for evolutionary mechanics via genetics, but not the impetus behind adaptation, nor even many known evolutionary phenomena, such as precocious knowledge.

Albeit convincing by appearance, matterism is ultimately unreal. Scientifically, matterism leaves far too much mystery.