Horgan sides, somewhat tentatively, with free will. He notes that humans are more than just heaps of particles. Higher levels of complexity enable genuinely new qualities. What humans can do is not merely a more complex version of what amoebas can do — in turn, a more complex version of what electrons can do. Greater complexity can involve genuinely new qualities. A philosopher would say that he is not a reductionist.
The agnosticism Horgan espouses sounds like hoping indefinitely for answers that conform to a materialist view of the world.
Horgan: First, science is in a slump, for reasons both internal and external. Science is ill-served when prominent thinkers tout ideas that can never be tested and hence are, sorry, unscientific. Moreover, at a time when our world, the real world, faces serious problems, dwelling on multiverses strikes me as escapism—akin to billionaires fantasizing about colonizing Mars.
Takehome: Horgan finds that, despite the enormous advances in neuroscience, genetics, cognitive science, and AI, our minds remain “as mysterious as ever.”
Horgan: The concept of information makes no sense in the absence of something to be informed—that is, a conscious observer capable of choice, or free will (sorry, I can’t help it, free will is an obsession).
The Scientific American columnist is unimpressed by two recent books on the subject, cosmologist Sean Carroll’s Something Deeply Hidden and science writer Tom Siegfried’s The Number of the Heavens.
Horgan: As genuine progress has stalled, hype has surged. A 2015 study of biomedical papers found that between 1974 and 2014 the frequency of terms such as “novel,” “innovative” and “unprecedented” increased 15-fold.
The interesting thing is that the science writer portrayed string theory as a religion, a sort of “mathematical theology.” And he is right. But what follows now?
Postmodernism is to science what rabies is to dogs. That is, it will lead to post-science as surely as rabies leads to post-dogs. But by all means, let them fight in the meantime.