Mind Religion Science

Lydia Jaeger: Natural science cannot fully comprehend human nature

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At Themelios:

The epistemology defended in this article leads to the recognition of plural Wissenschaften (see section 2.4 above). This has specific consequences for knowledge about our origins. There are facts about humans which fall outside the competence of the natural sciences, but which we learn from other disciplines. Psychology and sociology cannot be reduced to natural science, nor can philosophy and theology be discarded as providing no independent insights about human identity. This does not mean that natural science does not give us precious information about who we are and where we come from. But we cannot expect to know everything which is worth knowing about humans from this one source.

Probably the oldest and best-known non-reductionist family of arguments concerns the nature of rational thought. It can be traced back through Descartes to Plato’s Phaedo. The backbone of the argument is the general truth that what there is (being) cannot determine what there should be (norms). Natural science aims at describing what exists. But rational thought is a normative endeavor. Affirming that something is true (or false) thus cannot be expressed in purely scientific terms. In the 20th century, versions of this argument have been elaborated (among others) by C. S. Lewis,41 Karl Popper,42 Thomas Nagel,43 and Alvin Plantinga.

The normative character of rational thought is not the only threat to a reductionist understanding of mind. There are other features of thought which are problematic, such as consciousness and intentionality. Theists are not the only philosophers to point out the difficulties of the reductionist program.45 And the mind is not the only aspect of humans which that defies reductionism. Relational notions—such as trust, friendship, sense of transcendence—seem in their very essence to go beyond what natural scientific method can capture. Remember that one of the hallmarks of scientific practice is the repeatability of experiments. The outcome of an experiment should not be affected by which scientist performs it. But the essence of true relationships is that it does matter to whom we are relating.

The irreducible nature of humans has direct implications for any exploration of human origins. Natural scientific studies, important and fascinating as they are, will never tell us all there is to be known. In particular, there is no straight forward way to translate important philosophical and theological concepts into natural scientific ones. More.

But never mind, the next gimcrack theory of consciousness is probably being uploaded at a digital coffee table pop science mag as you read this.

Note: Lydia Jaeger is lecturer and academic dean at the Institut Biblique de Nogentsur-Marne, France, and associate member of St. Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge, England.

See also: Evolution bred a sense of reality out of us

Researcher: Never mind the “hard problem of consciousness”: The real one is…


What great physicists have said about immateriality and consciousness

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5 Replies to “Lydia Jaeger: Natural science cannot fully comprehend human nature

  1. 1
    bornagain77 says:

    I love the headline:

    “Natural science cannot fully comprehend human nature”

    Here is a poem that captures the essence of that thought:

    There Is More
    Once I saw a very old Godly man who, being very near death, had
    Become deaf, blind and invalid; Yet somehow he glowed happily
    Then it occurred to me…

    There is more to seeing than the light we see with our eyes
    There is more to beholding than to watch setting skies
    There is more to hearing than airwaves of sound
    There is more to standing than standing on ground
    There is more to feeling than touching with our skin
    There is more to all things, things that come from deeper within

    Then I saw a miserly old rich man who had angrily driven away his family
    Now he was in his empty mansion in a coma, with no one around who loved him
    Then it occurred to me…

    There is more to hurting than the pain of sticks and stones
    There is more being a person than having skin and bones
    There is more to a home than bricks, nails, and lumber
    There is more to waking up than rising from slumber
    There is more to riches than having your gold piled high
    There is more to living than just being alive

    Then I saw a Godly young woman full of compassion
    Working with homeless people helping them get off the street
    Then it occurred to me…

    There is more to loving than the warmth of feeling good
    There is more to understanding than a fact being understood
    There is more to work with than just the tools of our crafts
    There is more to becoming clean than just taking a bath
    There is more to being free than having no prison walls
    There is more to being poor than having no money at all

    Then I saw a bitter old man who angrily didn’t believe in miracles
    and who thought that this cold hard world is all that there is to life
    Then it occurred to me…

    There is more to being dead than a body in a tomb
    There is more to being born than coming from a womb
    There is more to heaven than all the stars above
    There is more to Jesus Christ than just distant example of God’s love
    There is more to learning than all the books teach us in schools
    And there is more to walking with God than following TEN rules

    Then I got home at the end of the day
    Went into my room and quietly prayed

    Lord, If there is more than a lesson to my heart You could teach
    Would You teach me to see spiritually to add depth to my reach
    And Lord, If there is more than a gift to this world You might give
    Would You give the miracle that in all hearts Your light ever lives

    There Is More – Poem – video

  2. 2
    bornagain77 says:

    In this article from a few days ago,,,

    Physics may be a small but crucial fraction of our reality – 30 November 2016
    Excerpt: Ultimately, physics only describes the part of reality that is susceptible to mathematics – as Muller points out, not least because Kurt Gödel’s theorems of the 1930s made it clear that any mathematically based theory will always be incomplete. Efforts such as the push to a quantum theory of gravity may bring us to a more complete understanding, but it is likely our vista will remain blurred. No doubt physics is important, but it could be there is much that is important about reality that is not physics.

    In noted that,,,

    Since mathematics can never explain the mind that thought up any particular mathematical formula in the first place, I would think it should be fairly obvious that a mathematical description of reality would forever leave the most important part of reality, i.e. the mind, on the cutting room floor.

    and I then referenced the following cites to back up that claim,,

    “Either mathematics is too big for the human mind, or the human mind is more than a machine.”
    – Kurt Gödel As quoted in Topoi : The Categorial Analysis of Logic (1979) by Robert Goldblatt, p. 13

    The mathematical world – James Franklin – 7 April 2014
    Excerpt: the intellect (is) immaterial and immortal. If today’s naturalists do not wish to agree with that, there is a challenge for them. ‘Don’t tell me, show me’: build an artificial intelligence system that imitates genuine mathematical insight. There seem to be no promising plans on the drawing board.,,,
    James Franklin is professor of mathematics at the University of New South Wales in Sydney.

    The danger of artificial stupidity – Saturday, 28 February 2015
    “Computers lack mathematical insight: in his book The Emperor’s New Mind, the Oxford mathematical physicist Sir Roger Penrose deployed Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem to argue that, in general, the way mathematicians provide their “unassailable demonstrations” of the truth of certain mathematical assertions is fundamentally non-algorithmic and non-computational”

    Robert Marks: Some Things Computers Will Never Do: Nonalgorithmic Creativity and Unknowability – video

    Imagination Sampling (Eric Holloway) – 8:30 minute mark quote “The Turing Oracle is non-algorithmic”

    What Does “Life’s Conservation Law” Actually Say? – Winston Ewert – December 3, 2015
    Excerpt: “All information must eventually derive from a source external to the universe,”

    Yet, to go further, it occurred to me today that although mind will forever be beyond a complete mathematical description, none-the-less, math has been effectively used to show that the brain does not produce consciousness. And to show that ‘consciousness is something altogether different and separate’ from the material brain.

    Consciousness Does Not Compute (and Never Will), Says Korean Scientist – May 05, 2015 (based on 2007 paper)
    Excerpt: “Non-computability of Consciousness” documents Song’s quantum computer research into TS (technological singularity (TS) or strong artificial intelligence). Song was able to show that in certain situations, a conscious state can be precisely and fully represented in mathematical terms, in much the same manner as an atom or electron can be fully described mathematically. That’s important, because the neurobiological and computational approaches to brain research have only ever been able to provide approximations at best. In representing consciousness mathematically, Song shows that consciousness is not compatible with a machine.
    Song’s work also shows consciousness is not like other physical systems like neurons, atoms or galaxies. “If consciousness cannot be represented in the same way all other physical systems are represented, it may not be something that arises out of a physical system like the brain,” said Song. “The brain and consciousness are linked together, but the brain does not produce consciousness. Consciousness is something altogether different and separate. The math doesn’t lie.”
    Of note: Daegene Song obtained his Ph.D. in physics from the University of Oxford

    Reply to Mathematical Error in “Incompatibility Between Quantum Theory and Consciousness” – Daegene Song – 2008

  3. 3
    bornagain77 says:

    And, from another angle, here is another mathematical critique of any possible materialistic explanation of consciousness,

    Sentient robots? Not possible if you do the maths – 13 May 2014
    Over the past decade, Giulio Tononi at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his colleagues have developed a mathematical framework for consciousness that has become one of the most influential theories in the field. According to their model, the ability to integrate information is a key property of consciousness. ,,,
    But there is a catch, argues Phil Maguire at the National University of Ireland in Maynooth. He points to a computational device called the XOR logic gate, which involves two inputs, A and B. The output of the gate is “1” if A and B are the same and “0” if A and B are different. In this scenario, it is impossible to predict the output based on A or B alone – you need both.
    Crucially, this type of integration requires loss of information, says Maguire: “You have put in two bits, and you get one out. If the brain integrated information in this fashion, it would have to be continuously hemorrhaging information.”,,,
    Based on this definition, Maguire and his team have shown mathematically that computers can’t handle any process that integrates information completely. If you accept that consciousness is based on total integration, then computers can’t be conscious.

    Mathematical Model Of Consciousness Proves Human Experience Cannot Be Modeled On A Computer – May 2014
    Excerpt: The central part of their new work is to describe the mathematical properties of a system that can store integrated information in this way but without it leaking away. And this leads them to their central proof. “The implications of this proof are that we have to abandon either the idea that people enjoy genuinely [integrated] consciousness or that brain processes can be modeled computationally,” say Maguire and co.
    Since Tononi’s main assumption is that consciousness is the experience of integrated information, it is the second idea that must be abandoned: brain processes cannot be modeled computationally.

    Moreover, besides computers failing to have genuine mathematical insight, and besides math been used to show that consciousness is forever beyond materialistic explanation, in the math of Quantum Mechanics there is ‘an irreducible subjective element’

    On The Comparison Of Quantum and Relativity Theories – Sachs – 1986
    Excerpt: quantum theory entails an irreducible subjective element in its conceptual basis. In contrast, the theory of relativity when fully exploited, is based on a totally objective view.

    How (conscious) observation is inextricably bound to measurement in quantum mechanics:
    Quote: “We wish to measure a temperature.,,,
    But in any case, no matter how far we calculate — to the mercury vessel, to the scale of the thermometer, to the retina, or into the brain, at some time we must say: and this is perceived by the observer. That is, we must always divide the world into two parts, the one being the observed system, the other the observer.”
    John von Neumann – 1903-1957 – The Mathematical Foundations of Quantum Mechanics, pp.418-21 – 1955

    Does Quantum Physics Make it Easier to Believe in God? Stephen M. Barr – July 10, 2012
    Excerpt: Couldn’t an inanimate physical device (say, a Geiger counter) carry out a “measurement” (minus the ‘observer’ in quantum mechanics)? That would run into the very problem pointed out by von Neumann: If the “observer” were just a purely physical entity, such as a Geiger counter, one could in principle write down a bigger wavefunction that described not only the thing being measured but also the observer. And, when calculated with the Schrödinger equation, that bigger wave function would not jump! Again: as long as only purely physical entities are involved, they are governed by an equation that says that the probabilities don’t jump.
    That’s why, when Peierls was asked whether a machine could be an “observer,” he said no, explaining that “the quantum mechanical description is in terms of knowledge, and knowledge requires somebody who knows.” Not a purely physical thing, but a mind.

    And this ‘jumping of probabilities’ for a conscious observer, within the math of quantum mechanics, has been born out experimentally,,,

    New Mind-blowing Experiment Confirms That Reality Doesn’t Exist If You Are Not Looking at It – June 3, 2015
    Excerpt: The results of the Australian scientists’ experiment, which were published in the journal Nature Physics, show that this choice is determined by the way the object is measured, which is in accordance with what quantum theory predicts.
    “It proves that measurement is everything. At the quantum level, reality does not exist if you are not looking at it,” said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Truscott in a press release.,,,
    “The atoms did not travel from A to B. It was only when they were measured at the end of the journey that their wave-like or particle-like behavior was brought into existence,” he said.
    Thus, this experiment adds to the validity of the quantum theory and provides new evidence to the idea that reality doesn’t exist without an observer.

    Here are a few comments as to the ‘disturbing’ implications of Quantum Theory:

    “Reality is in the observations, not in the electron.”
    – Paul Davies

    “We have become participators in the existence of the universe. We have no right to say that the past exists independent of the act of observation.”
    – John Wheeler

    “Look, we all have fun ridiculing the creationists who think the world sprang into existence on October 23, 4004 BC at 9AM (presumably Babylonian time), with the fossils already in the ground, light from distant stars heading toward us, etc. But if we accept the usual picture of quantum mechanics, then in a certain sense the situation is far worse: the world (as you experience it) might as well not have existed 10^-43 seconds ago!”
    – Scott Aaronson – MIT associate Professor quantum computation – Lecture 11: Decoherence and Hidden Variables

    Thus in conclusion, 1. Computers lack genuine mathematical insight. 2. Math has shown that consciousness will forever be beyond materialistic explanation, and 3. The math of Quantum Mechanics has an irreducible subjective element to it that entails a conscious observer making a measurement.

    Moreover, the math of quantum mechanics has been experimentally verified to prove that ” Reality Doesn’t Exist If You Are Not Looking at It”.

    The atheistic materialist simply has no possible explanation for any of this. He especially has no possible explanation for reality not even existing until we look at it. Whereas the Theist does have a ready answer for all of this in that the Christian has ALWAYS claimed that the infinite Mind of God sustains all of material reality in its continued existence.

    Verse and Video

    Colossians 1:17
    “He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.”

    Double Slit, Quantum-Electrodynamics, and Christian Theism – video

    Thus, as the article and the poem in post 1 pointed out, although the vast majority of what it truly means to be human will forever be beyond the grasp of scientific explanation, none-the-less, science, particularly math, has been fairly successful in validating the Christian Theist’s claim that mind precedes, and is irreducible to, material reality.

  4. 4
    Dionisio says:


    Lots of good information. Thank you.

  5. 5
    Origenes says:

    // On materialistic reductionism:

    Consider a muscle connected to an insect’s wing and ask yourself: what causes it to move? Let’s suppose that we trace back the signal through muscle and nerve cells to one particular neuronal cell in the insect’s brain. Now ask yourself: what kind of decision power is in there? Let’s suppose further that we could trace the signal back further to one particular fermion. What kind of explanation would we have? Does that fermion control the insect‘s wing? Does that make sense?
    Now ask yourself:

    what kind of explanation was I hoping for?

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