The death of the science-philosophy dichotomy?

By Menas Kafatos

Consciousness issues remain among the hardest problems in science.

This composite image released by the Nasa on November 15, 2010 shows a supernova within the galaxy M100 that may contain the youngest known black hole in our cosmic neighborhood. (HO - AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

Today, what constitutes consciousness and how it operates in the universe are the centerpiece in the dialogue between philosophy and science, or physics and metaphysics. However, what used to be the focus of philosophy alone, can now be approached by science. This is certainly very exciting possibility and my presentation to “Sages and Scientists” was precisely how to address this dialogue in practical steps. Progress has been made through the development of quantum theory, which, unlike classical physics, assigns a fundamental role to the act of

observation and opens the door to the role of consciousness. We need a bold effort forward, to be guided by science, while at the same time examining what perennial philosophies hold as truths. The issue of underlying reality emerges. Guided from science, we find that fundamental principles that apply at the quantum level, such as complementarity, non-locality, and scale-invariance, also apply at other many realms, including mental and biological. By a series of diagrams, I show how one can construct bottom up (or reductionist) and top down (holistic) processes. I believe that we are at the threshold of a profoundly new vision of the cosmos, where observer, observed, and the act of observation are interlocked and the old dichotomy between science and philosophy can be approached in a rational way. This also hints at a future science of wholeness, going beyond the purely physical emphasis of current science. Consciousness and matter may indeed be two complementary aspects of one reality, embracing the micro and macro worlds. It is quite possible and in fact it alleviates many serious problems, if consciousness in a fundamental way is integral to the universe. The “Physics of Consciousness,” a theoretical approach outlined here, may indeed have concrete steps based in mathematics, to develop an integral approach.

What may be considered as addressing similar issues in another form, an interdisciplinary panel on the “Nature of Reality” will take at Chapman University, on March 31, 2011. The event is organized by the Schmid College of Science in partnership with the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts and the Wilkinson College of Humanities and Social Sciences. The panel discussion will start by asking two questions, “Is there an Ultimate Reality?” and if yes, “Can it be accounted for by science such as mathematics, biology and physics?”

The list of confirmed scientists, authors and academicians who have agreed to join the panel discussion include Deepak Chopra, M.D., a world-renowned authority in the field of mind-body healing, and the founder of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. A global force in the field of human empowerment, Chopra is the prolific author of more than fifty-five books, including fourteen bestsellers on mind-body health, quantum mechanics, spirituality, and peace. Stuart Hameroff, co-author of Sir Roger Penrose, anesthesiologist and professor at the University of Arizona, has authored several articles on conscious processes in the brain and the collapse of the wave function. Menas Kafatos, Vice Chancellor for Special Projects, Dean of the Schmid College of Science, and The Fletcher Jones Endowed Professor in Computational Physics at Chapman University, is author and editor of more than 15 books and 250 refereed articles in a variety of fields of quantum physics, general relativity, astrophysics, Earth system science, and consciousness. Leonard Mlodinow, Professor at Caltech, author of several books, has co-authored books with Stephen Hawking and recently with Deepak Chopra. He does research in quantum theory and other fields of physics, and has received several awards in computer gaming. Carmichael Peters, Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Chapman University where he teaches courses in Buddhism, comparative religions, philosophical and political theology, and philosophy of religion. Michael Shermer, is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine and editor of, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and an Adjunct Professor at Claremont Graduate University. He has authored several books, including evolutionary economics and in support of Darwinism. Daniele Struppa, Chancellor, Chapman University, will be the moderator. He is a well-known mathematician who uses applied mathematics for real-life problems such using bioinformatics in cancer markers. He is author of more than 100 refereed publications, including two books, and he is the editor of several volumes. Henry Stapp, quantum physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, is well known for his views on the nature of the mind and brain. He did post-doctoral work under Wolfgang Pauli, has followed and built the quantum views of Werner Heisenberg and John von Neumann. Jim Walsh, lifelong entrepreneur, is Co-Founder and Chairman of the Human Energy System Alliance, or HESA Institute, a research and development company devoted to unlocking the potential of the human energy system and to developing technologies and products that transform human health and increase human flourishing. William Wright is Associate professor of Biology at Chapman, performing laboratory research with many undergraduate students supported by the National Science Foundation.

Menas Kafatos, Ph.D., is Vice Chancellor for Special Projects and also Dean of the Schmid College of Science, Director of the Center for Excellence in Applied, Computational, and Fundamental Science. This essay is the fourth in a series exploring the relationship between religion and science. This series is an outgrowth of the Sages and Scientists Symposium sponsored by the Chopra Foundation.

Published in The Washington Post