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Playwright Tom Stoppard: Does he see the problem with naturalism?

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If a pop playwright does see that, things are  surely changing, big time.

In his new play, The Hard Problem, British playwright Tom Stoppard, writer for Shakespeare in Love proposes the following plot:

Above all don’t use the word good as though it meant something in evolutionary science.

Hilary, a young psychology researcher at a brain-science institute, is nursing a private sorrow and a troubling question at work, where psychology and biology meet. If there is nothing but matter, what is consciousness?

This is ‘the hard problem’ which puts Hilary at odds with her colleagues who include her first mentor Spike, her boss Leo and the billionaire founder of the institute, Jerry.

Is the day coming when the computer and the fMRI scanner will answer all the questions psychology can ask?

Meanwhile Hilary needs a miracle, and she is prepared to pray for one.

Apparently, she discovers that Darwinism is just wrong-o. (We could have saved her the tuition.)

A reader asked if Stoppard should be compared with philosopher Thomas Nagel, someone who has started to get the problem with Darwinian naturalism, if we go by Mind & Cosmos. We are told that the ending implies that non-naturalism might have some answers. Which means that Stoppard is a Bad Person, right?

Perhaps for this reason, the The Guardian review informs us: “Often taxed with being too intellectual as a playwright, he is here not intellectually stringent enough.”

And New Scientist primly announces,

Similarly, the New Scientist writes: “what was irritating about The Hard Problem was the weight it gave to the hard problem” and “there is more than a whiff of anti-science here, since it argues that we will never be able to explain the conscious experience.

This from people who buy into just about any flim flam going.

It must have taken a lot of courage for him to do this. Or else recognition of who he is dealing with on either side. He can be with the mind or with the Darwin lobby.

Tom Stoppard quotes

Note: We are also told by some that the best line in the interview below is, “If it’s all physics, then we are just marking our own homework.”

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7 Replies to “Playwright Tom Stoppard: Does he see the problem with naturalism?

  1. 1
    Seversky says:

    In my fortunately brief forays on the stage as an amateur thespian in my youth I once had a leading role in Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound. He is a fine playright and I look forward to seeing The Hard Problem if I get a chance.

    As for the real Hard Problem of consciousness, no one knows how the individual’s experience emerges from the physical brain but they are clearly connected because we don’t have one without the other. But the fact we don’t yet know how doesn’t mean there isn’t a ‘how’ or that we’ll never find it. We can’t describe the exact causal chain between the properties of oxygen and hydrogen molecules and the beautiful and delicate forms of snowflakes but there is clearly a connection, nonetheless.

  2. 2
    Mark Frank says:

    If a pop playwright does see that, things are surely changing, big time.

    Why do you describe him as a pop playwright? He sells well but the majority of his plays are very thoughtful and challenging (Real Inspector Hound excluded). He has been writing plays that debate the relationship between science/materialism and morality at least since Jumpers (1972) and arguably since Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (1966). So writing another one about morality is hardly an indicator of change. What is different is the discussion of the nature of consciousness (assuming the title reflects the content of the play – I haven’t seen it yet). This may well reflect change, but not in the direction I suspect you were thinking/wanting. 40 years ago the problem of consciousness was pretty much an academic concern of philosophers and hardly the material for a play. It has become topical because the progress of neuroscience has begun to make a practical issue out of what seemed like a purely academic debate.

  3. 3
    Silver Asiatic says:

    Seversky

    But the fact we don’t yet know how doesn’t mean there isn’t a ‘how’ or that we’ll never find it.

    The fact that we don’t know yet doesn’t mean that someday we will. We might never know – because consciousness may not be caused by anything physical. That remains a very real possibility – and thus materialism would be false in that case. So, materialism takes some faith. It’s a risk, knowing that immaterial essences may actually exist and that we don’t know if consciousness is one of them.

  4. 4
    Silver Asiatic says:

    It must have taken a lot of courage for him to do this. Or else recognition of who he is dealing with on either side. He can be with the mind or with the Darwin lobby.

    I hope it’s a sign of his courage and stance against the Darwin lobby. I’ve always liked him since reading his work in high school (I played both parts in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in drama class once).

    I think we’ll eventually see more artists recognizing that Darwinism is a dead-end. It’s an anti-human ideology which kills off spiritual values and destroys any sense of the mystery and aspiration of human life.

    A few authors recently are going anti-Darwin: Stephen King, Dean Koontz, Tom Wolfe … William Peter Blatty (he’s been anti-materialist all along though). Of course, literature and art in general is an anti-Darwin enterprise. Meaning, purpose, love, mystery, destiny … all of that is gone in the materialist nightmare. It’s just survival and reproducing — and even that is done for no reason whatsoever. If there’s any story-line it’s just some rage against God, in other words, the very mindless stupidity one should expect from such a theory.

  5. 5
    Mark Frank says:

    Much as I admire Stoppard I see no particular call on his courage. There have been far more controversial plays at the NT. Although many people on this forum like to think that they are a persecuted group there is in fact no such threat – particularly in the UK. He is an established playwright who appears to have written a play on an interesting if rather cerebral subject. His biggest act of courage is writing something that is so cerebral(if it takes the form I think it does).

  6. 6
    David Tyler says:

    Some think “there is an unwritten rule for political plays: Thou Shalt be Left-Wing.” There are enough examples to show there is some substance in this view. It appears to me that the socialist mind is attracted towards consensus positions and feels threatened when their “orthodoxies” are challenged. So we get playrights and authors challenging minority views, buttressing the favoured establishment norms. There appears to be evidence that those willing to challenge materialism and Darwinism are right-leaning. Sir Tom Stoppard is prepared to describe himself as a “conservative with a small c” and we should not be surprised that The Hard Problem has generated critics who are unaccustomed to their own worldviews being threatened.
    Further reflections on this theme are by Jonathan Maitland, who has written the play Dead Sheep.
    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/cul.....oring.html

  7. 7
    bornagain77 says:

    Today Eric Metaxas speaks with his friend Kirsten Powers about her new book THE SILENCING. Tune in at http://www.MetaxasTalk.com at 2 EST!

    The Silencing: How the Left is Killing Free Speech Hardcover – May 11, 2015
    http://www.amazon.com/Silencin.....ten+powers

    Does anyone else besides me find it highly ironic that those who are most likely to hold that they are merely mindless automatons are trying to silence the free speech of those who do not believe they are mindless automatons?

    Darwin’s Robots: When Evolutionary Materialists Admit that Their Own Worldview Fails – Nancy Pearcey – April 23, 2015
    Excerpt: Even materialists often admit that, in practice, it is impossible for humans to live any other way. One philosopher jokes that if people deny free will, then when ordering at a restaurant they should say, “Just bring me whatever the laws of nature have determined I will get.”
    An especially clear example is Galen Strawson, a philosopher who states with great bravado, “The impossibility of free will … can be proved with complete certainty.” Yet in an interview, Strawson admits that, in practice, no one accepts his deterministic view. “To be honest, I can’t really accept it myself,” he says. “I can’t really live with this fact from day to day. Can you, really?”,,,
    In What Science Offers the Humanities, Edward Slingerland, identifies himself as an unabashed materialist and reductionist. Slingerland argues that Darwinian materialism leads logically to the conclusion that humans are robots — that our sense of having a will or self or consciousness is an illusion. Yet, he admits, it is an illusion we find impossible to shake. No one “can help acting like and at some level really feeling that he or she is free.” We are “constitutionally incapable of experiencing ourselves and other conspecifics [humans] as robots.”
    One section in his book is even titled “We Are Robots Designed Not to Believe That We Are Robots.”,,,
    When I teach these concepts in the classroom, an example my students find especially poignant is Flesh and Machines by Rodney Brooks, professor emeritus at MIT. Brooks writes that a human being is nothing but a machine — a “big bag of skin full of biomolecules” interacting by the laws of physics and chemistry. In ordinary life, of course, it is difficult to actually see people that way. But, he says, “When I look at my children, I can, when I force myself, … see that they are machines.”
    Is that how he treats them, though? Of course not: “That is not how I treat them…. I interact with them on an entirely different level. They have my unconditional love, the furthest one might be able to get from rational analysis.” Certainly if what counts as “rational” is a materialist worldview in which humans are machines, then loving your children is irrational. It has no basis
    within Brooks’s worldview. It sticks out of his box.
    How does he reconcile such a heart-wrenching cognitive dissonance? He doesn’t. Brooks ends by saying, “I maintain two sets of inconsistent beliefs.” He has given up on any attempt to reconcile his theory with his experience. He has abandoned all hope for a unified, logically consistent worldview.
    http://www.evolutionnews.org/2.....95451.html

    The Heretic – Who is Thomas Nagel and why are so many of his fellow academics condemning him? – March 25, 2013
    Excerpt:,,,Fortunately, materialism is never translated into life as it’s lived. As colleagues and friends, husbands and mothers, wives and fathers, sons and daughters, materialists never put their money where their mouth is. Nobody thinks his daughter is just molecules in motion and nothing but; nobody thinks the Holocaust was evil, but only in a relative, provisional sense. A materialist who lived his life according to his professed convictions—understanding himself to have no moral agency at all, seeing his friends and enemies and family as genetically determined robots—wouldn’t just be a materialist: He’d be a psychopath.
    http://www.weeklystandard.com/.....tml?page=3

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