4 min readBewilderment: The antidote to scientific reductionism

Science was meant to deepen our innate capacity to appreciate the patterns that exist in nature, not reduce nature into its material components.

What is it that connects science and art? How can we navigate the tricky road of scientific study without falling into the trap of materialism? In this article written for the Nautilus, Kevin Berger describes the answer he found for himself.

Berger begins his story in 2012, when he visited the lab of John Donoghue at Brown University, and saw how science could enable an old woman regain her physical capacity after a stroke. Donoghue utilized microelectrodes attached to the woman’s brain to enable her to control a robotic arm.

The capacity to regain lost physical capabilities due to illness has been around for decades. Remember Stephen Hawking? But it was only when Berger witnessed with his own eyes how such a technology works, did the realization hit him: human movement (and by extension, human emotions) can be tracked right down to the neurons. We know what neurons will produce what sort of emotions, and what neuronal connections will enable new capacities. With the completion of the Human Genome Project in 2003, we now know even more about the human being and the components that make up our physical system. It is this science that has fueled the view that humans are no more than biological machines – a view that has taken the humanity out of, well, humanity.

Schooled in literature and music, it was difficult for Berger to reconcile this new realization to the worldview he grew up in. How can an electrochemical robot (the human being) be able to create so much beauty in the arts, literature, music, and movement? In a discussion with novelist Richard Powers, Berger finds the answer: bewilderment, the capacity to be in awe and amazement, as an extension of the recognition and acknowledgement of what is mysterious and unknowable.

Materialist science, which has given way to a deterministic view point, has made it a point to find explanations to everything found in nature. It has then, taken the mystery out of the world. Modern people no longer find anything worth marvelling and wondering at, because our science can find a materialistic explanation for everything.

Berger, however, says that our conduct of current science is exactly the opposite of what it was originally conceived to be. He believes that science and the arts, thought of as direct opposites, were meant to enhance and deepen the human capacity for bewilderment. Art enables us to see the beauty in the patterns of the natural world, and science, in its innate capacity to understand the inner workings of nature, was supposed to help us grow our capacity to appreciate the patterns that exist [in Paul Davies: The Universe Is Not Meaningless, it was expounded that these same patterns mean that the universe and all things within it has meaning, visit that article to gain an better understanding of this idea].

Implications for AI

While our science has been able to decode almost every component in our known universe, it remains clueless to the components that has enabled the human being to reach the level of development our species is currently at. The Integrated Information Theory [see What Is The Integrated Information Theory to know more about this] may help explain the nature of consciousness, but if proven to be right IIT will only reiterate that the human being is much too complex to be a machine – that the very thing that makes us human, our consciousness, is not the product of simple interconnections in the brain.

Even with the science that is said to have began the materialistic worldview – physics – the world is no longer as simple as we think. Beyond the traditional conception of atoms and molecules is the interconnected energy that binds the entire universe in one fabric. It has created a new view of reality that directly opposes determinism [see How Quantum Physics Has Revealed And Addressed The Problems Of Materialistic Science]. Meanwhile, new findings in astrophysics is showing that the universe has evolved precisely to support life.

Materialist science is coming to an end, and with it comes a worldview that is both transcendent and inclusive [read How Transpersonal Theory Is Changing Psychiatry to see an example of this new worldview]. To prepare ourselves for this end, we must realize that human beings, in all our weaknesses and strengths, plays a pivotal role in evolution. Will we abort evolution by fully shedding off the physical body that connects us to all of creation? Or will we discover the deeper meaning of our existence in this universe? As it turns out, science again, shall provide us with the answer. But art, and bewilderment, will be essential tools in this process.

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