Naïve Realism, Or the Strange Case of Physics and Fake Philosophers (Part 2)

By Deepak Chopra, MD and Menas Kafatos,PhD

naive realismScientists have assigned the role of Mister Answer to science, the source of knowledge on every subject. This is peculiar because science does not accept a complete body of knowledge at any one time as final, therefore no answer can be final. This is how science progresses. Scientists though often forget that and they go on as if their current knowledge is all there is to know. By the very nature of science, some subjects are beyond science. Does this mean they are beyond knowing? That’s a tricky and at times disturbing question. Doubts arise on many fronts. Can science tell us what it means to be human, or how molecules developed the ability to think, as they seem to do in the brain? These are questions that science was never meant to be able to answer. It does not mean they are not valid and fundamental. However, the most troubling issue is whether science can continue to perform its most basic function, describing the nature of reality. As we saw in the first post of this series, there’s every indication that reality is becoming more mysterious, not less, as one probes deeper into it.

Some leading scientists are on record dismissing philosophy as “junk,” “useless,” and “an obstacle to progress,” because philosophy consists purely of thinking while science produces hard facts, experiments, and provable findings. Yet in its disdain for so-called “metaphysics,” these scientists have become over confident. It turns out that there are three areas where philosophy is likely to resurge in a new guise, bringing answers about reality that all of us need to know, including the most advanced scientists.

The first area has to do with how we know what we know, which is called epistemology. How do you know a rock is hard and heavy, the sun is hot, and a red rose is red? You use the five senses, which seem to be trustworthy in the everyday world. This trust is called naïve realism, and as the first post revealed, the five senses are totally untrustworthy in the quantum domain. The fact that a rock can be reduced to a cloud of vibrating energy that in turn is only describable as a smear of probabilities knocks naïve realism off its pedestal. Even more devastating is the fact that the brain, which we rely on to know everything about the world, isn’t a privileged object. Like a rock, it too can also ultimately be reduced to a smear of probabilities, undercutting our assumption that what the brain reports is true knowledge.

Neuroscience is entirely based on the premise that the brain can do things a rock cannot do, yet if the brain and a rock are embedded in the same quantum domain, where did the brain acquire its ability to know anything? What is the difference between the elementary particles in a rock from the elementary particles in a brain? None whatsoever. Brain scientists would argue that it is the incredible complexity of the brain that makes it different but incredible complexity in machines created by man does not make them capable of even the tiniest of thought, or feeling for that matter. Science has offered no credible answer, and the vast majority of scientists would be baffled by the possibility that the brain doesn’t in fact know anything, any more than a rock does. Rather, it’s the mind, using the brain to express itself, that knows, just as Mozart, knowing music, used the piano to express himself. (more…)