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Thursday, 31 December 2009
Arts & Sciences

by Rebecca Bynum (January 2010)

Throughout the twentieth century and into the first decade of the twenty-first, the life sciences have increasingly been devoted to examining the traits and characteristics man shares with other animals. The trend has been toward minimizing man’s unique qualities and magnifying man’s animal nature. The theory of natural selection, coupled with sexual selection is now being stretched to explain all aspects of human behavior and psychology. This has the effect of diluting the concept of will, and ultimately, of denying the non-material aspects of human experience entirely, including the reality of mind itself. more>>>
Posted on 12/31/2009 4:28 PM by NER
8 Jan 2010
Send an emailRebecca Bynum

Thank you all for your kind comments. You have enboldened me to continue along this line of thought. The more I think about it, the more I become convinced that we actually partake of Mind, rather than produce individual minds. This would account for Jung's collective unconscious and the universals with regard to language. Mathematics is a way of describing mind itself because it describes and reveals pattern.  I think the differences between our minds can be explained by the differences in personality, temperment and will rather than completely different  little mind bubbles cause by our genes. It's possible, why not?

4 Jan 2010
Send an emailEastview

A beautiful essay, Rebecca. I fully agree with your analysis, and would add that the attempt to reduce reality to cause and effect in the physical world is bound to fail because it misses a good part of that reality. I often pose the following question about the nature of "reality" to my students: If I can name something that has no physical attributes, neither mass nor color nor smell nor movement [in physics jargon, no physical dimensional units like meters per second, or Volts per meter], yet has well defined properties that are eternal, and further is routinely used to manipulate the physical world, would you agree that it must therefore be "real?" The implication is that to be consistent with the materialists paradigm, only "real" quantities can act on other real quantities; anything else would not have the capability of influencing the  material world, either directly or indirectly by means of human agents. This would include even the mere act of perception of such quantities, since perception itself, in the materialist view, can be reduced to interaction of some "real" thing with the physical brain. 

Most students answer, yes, that for such an entity to exert an influence it must exist and be part of reality.  The answer? The number 2, which is only a prototype of an infinite number of abstractions that don't really "exist" according to the usual physics-based definitions of reality. So we have just identified something that has no material existence, but has well defined properties that don't change, ever - it is truly eternal - but by means of its mere perception is used to interact with that part of the physical world that no one argues is not real. Since it exists today and is eternal, then presumably its existence preceded even the "Big Bang" 13 billion years ago, which occcurrence, I would argue, was probably contingent on the preexistence of things like the number 2.

There's more.  One manifestation of the levels to which reductionism is taken is in the effort to come up with a "Theory of Everything." This is taken to mean a final mathematical formula that captures all the forces and dynamics of the physical world.  Of course, this would mean that to be consistent with the materialist paradigm it would have to contain within it a description of the theory itself, which would mean it would be self-referential. It would also have to contain within itself a description of the processes that lead to the creation of the very minds that can conceive of the theory.  To the extent that it lacks these features, it therefore is doomed to failure as a "Theory of Everything."

Of course, it goes without saying that it also does not directly address the very issues of art and beauty and love you mention. I would maintain that it is incapable, even in principle, of incorporating these attributes without drastic overhaul that would include extensions that go beyond simple materialism.  A distressing aspect of this is that today many scientists are so focused on the arcane and sometimes very detailed nature of the subject that they do not see, or have not taken the time to see, the larger picture.

But all is not without hope. There are people in the sciences, a few, who understand, for example, that religion is more than just an adaptively developed set of animal-like emotions distilled by evolution into a form that would provide the glue for primitive societies, and who view the universe as consisting of more than just interactions between atoms and molecules. Eventually C.P. Snow's divide will narrow, and science will evolve beyond its present, purely materialistic phase to be able to find a place for values and beauty and truth.  It will take some time, and probably won't occur without a lot of work, but it will eventually happen.

3 Jan 2010
Norman Berdichevsky

Thanks again to Rebecca Bynum. This is a brilliant and incisive expose of what is wrong with our educational system and why American students do so abysmally in both the arts and sciences (and history). They have been reduced by "reductionism" and materialism (there is a price to evrything in dollars at the market) to the lowest common denominator that nothing matters because the unerlying fundamental principles of knowledge are all based on the material world and the view of the beholder (relativism). They can all be reduced to atoms and molecules without will or spiritual values = so why learn history ? It is all bunk (Henry Ford). 

As a "Professor" in the arts and sciences of a "leading liberal Arts college", I understand why many of my students have little appreciation for art, beauty and truth in human affairs. For many of them, all of what we value as knowlege can be "reduced" to the grade they receive in the course. 

Of course, Israel has a "tough time" making its cause more well known and appealing. Why bother? Many students cannot even understand that the reason why the various treaties ending World War I and the disposition of the Ottoman territorries spoke of the historical indigenous peoples under Turkish domination - the Greeks, Jews, Arabs, Armenians  and Kurds without once mentioning the word "Palestinian" is that they were historically ABSENT.

Whatever is iconoclastic, novel  "revolutionary"  and above all "COOL" - are all the more attractive because they seek to diminish and depreciate the world these students have inherited from their parents.

Rbecca's "Arts and Sciences" should be required reading for all entering college freshmen and "freshwomen".   


3 Jan 2010

"This has the effect of diluting the concept of will, and ultimately, of denying the non-material aspects of human experience entirely, including the reality of mind itself. "-Rebecca

The mind and human emotions appear to have an automatic quality similar to the beating human heart. We do not will our thoughts or feelings .(For example: when owe desire to sleep and the mind races, we cannot will it to stop racing and go to sleep.)  We do not have control over most of our processes which end in death. We follow material-natural laws in mind-body.

However,  we have (especially after childhood) almost absolute control over our behavior. There is our  will, and our willed behavior changes our thoughts and feelings. We make choices in our will and a Hitler-Stalin can choose to  behave as Saint Francis did. We are not machines.

I think we will be judged by God on our will, not thoughts-feelings. to say we are not free there is BS.


As for science: it is now at a point very similar to religion when religion was controlled (especially funded) by the state 200-250 years ago in Europe. Both religion and science become free and exercised freely (and annoy the state) when they are separated from hand-in-glove state funding-establishment.

The issue of separation of science from the state (especially in the matter of direct funding) will be a major issue in the 21st century.  Science is now in a kind of Church-of-England-Islam-relation to the state.

(This recent Hagen-Copen-Das-Climate-Change-Conclave was a real eye opener. Science must be disestablished and separated from the state .)