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Robert Harrison on Erwin Schrödinger

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Jeff Beck, the after-lubber. Welcome to this special edition of entitled opinions,
special in the sense that we are not going to air it on the radio because we
don't have our time slot anymore. It didn't apply for a spring time slot, but so
many of you wrote in, expressing your sorrow that the focaccia show was the last one
of the season. I decided that I will share some thoughts with you today about
the scientist Irwin Schrodinger. So sit back, it might take a little while, and
we'll get through.
And by the way, another thing that can keep you going over the months when entitled
opinions on hiatus is a little book of mine that's coming out in a few weeks at
the end of April called Gardens and SA on the Human Condition. Now you know that I
never plugged my own work on this show, but that is a book that is ideal for your spring
reading and summer reading, I'd say Gardens and SA on the Human Condition, University of Chicago Press.
I've been thinking for the last few years about a scientist named Irwin Schrodinger, whose
name is well known to many of you I'm sure, and perhaps not so well known to others of you.
He was one of the great scientists of the 20th century, and in addition to being one of the great
scientists of his age, he was also was Schrodinger, one of its great thinkers.
And I believe that when they're great, both scientists and thinkers show us reality as it has
never been seen before, disclosing truths that had not been accessible before.
And I would claim even more radically that their view of the world transforms the very modes of the world's
self-manifestations. Yet these close cousins, scientists and thinkers are driven by two fundamentally
different passions, the passion for explanation on the one hand, and the passion for
revelation on the other. Schrodinger, exceptionally, was driven by both of them.
As a scientist, he sought to explore and expound the laws of nature. As a thinker, he sought to disclose
and draw out the mystery of the world over which those laws hold sway.
By the mystery of the world, what I mean is the mystery of his provenance, its lawfulness,
and above all its self-displayed human witness.
I believe that every great thinker is in the end a mystic of sorts,
whereas every great scientist is in the end a sleuth of sorts.
Schrodinger was a sleuth who followed clues to the edge of science's field of vision
and then looked beyond that edge into the mysterious of spiritual reality, which is so bound up with and yet so unlike the reality of matter.
That's why I would say that Schrodinger reversed the usual trajectory of scientific inquiry.
Science begins in wonder and ends in insight,
whereas Schrodinger's inquiries began with insight and ended in wonder.
A successful scientific investigation is supposed to put an end to wonder,
at least that's what Francis Bacon, who was a classic,
apologist for modern science, tells us. Bacon, in an essay of his called the Advancement of Learning, denigrated wonder,
as an inappropriate or at best a temporary scientific disposition.
He spoke of wonder as I'm quoting broken knowledge, contemplation broken off or losing itself,
by which he meant that as science advances towards certainty, it dispels the initial ignorance,
out of which wonder is born.
I invoke Bacon here not because I believe he was a great thinker, he was far from that in my opinion,
but because his ideas about wonder as broken knowledge express a far from obsolete presupposition of scientific inquiry,
namely that the unknown is merely as yet unconquered territory,
and that what Bacon confidently called the Advancement of Learning dissipates the cloud of mystery that otherwise attends phenomena.
For Schrodinger, this was exactly not the case. If science seeks to explain natural phenomena by natural causes,
he found in scientific explanation, an intensification, expansion, and justification of wonder.
For it is the known that is most wondrous of all for Schrodinger,
it is reality itself that makes the case for mysticism.
If one is a thinking scientist like Schrodinger, the natural world in its intelligibility is what proves most astonishing of all.
Far from demystifying the phenomenon science renders it uncanny, provided we are ready to think about what science explains.
As Schrodinger practiced it, thinking begins where science ends, even if both are oriented towards the same object.
Now one of the best examples of the way Schrodinger thought through scientific explanation,
enlisting it on behalf of wonder is his little book, "What is life?"
I spent a lot of time studying that book that we read in our philosophical reading group here at Stanford a couple of years ago.
It is a book that brings together a series of public lectures that Schrodinger originally delivered at Trinity College in the year 1943.
And here he looks at life for what he calls the physical aspect of the living cell, that is the subtitle of his book, "What is life?"
He looks at this physical aspect of the living cell from the point of view of the laws of physics.
Only to conclude that the reproductive patterns of living things so defy those laws, that the physicist is obliged to acknowledge the astounding exceptionalism of life in the order of matter.
Schrodinger reminds us that the laws of physics are statistical in nature, withinanimate matter, and most of the universe is inanimate.
There is such a quotient of irregularity in the motion of individual atoms that order can only occur in varied, varied, large statistical numbers.
That, by the way, is why atoms are so small.
As Schrodinger explains, in a beautiful chapter, entitled precisely, "Why are atoms so small?"
Have any of you ever asked yourselves that question, "Why are atoms so small?"
Well, it takes an almost incalculable quantity of atoms to produce those statistical averages on which order depends in even the smallest organizations of inanimate matter.
Schrodinger writes, "In biology, however, I'm quoting, "we are faced with an entirely different situation
where a single group of atoms, namely the chromosomes, existing only in one copy, produces orderly events, marvelously tuned in with each other, and with the environment according to the most subtle laws."
These laws, Schrodinger adds, "Again, cannot be reduced to the ordinary laws of physics."
For the transgenerational stability and resiliency of a single molecule containing all the genetic information, for the reproduction of life is, from the point of view of physical law, so improbable as to be essentially miraculous.
This is not to say that life does not obey natural laws. Schrodinger insists that it does, even if those laws are so different from those of physics as to be completely baffling,
All the more so, the more science succeeds in explaining the hereditary mechanisms by which life reproduces its forms in unimaginably fine detail.
During this hour, I'm not going to go into the more scientific and technical aspects of Schrodinger's investigation of life, his definition, for example, of the chromosome as an aperiodic crystal, which was so hugely important in the development of what is now known as molecular biology, or these fascinating conclusions he reaches with respect to the role that what he calls negative entropy plays in the sustenance of life.
What I'd like to insist on here is that the marvel that he expresses before the phenomenon of life, especially in the final chapters of his book, is not the breaking off of knowledge, nor is it mere puzzlement before the unknown.
It is precisely to the degree that Schrodinger comprehends the mechanism of life that he is an aub them.
That awe is an act of thinking that does not merely observe the phenomenon, it provokes itself manifestation to human aperception.
That in my view is what great scientific thinking does. It coaxes the phenomenon to appear.
The phenomenon does not appear where it goes apprehended or unappery ended. To shine forth in its wonder, the phenomenon needs to think or every bit as much as the think or needs the phenomenon.
Schrodinger engages in plenty of explanation in what is life. Yet what makes it such a thoughtful book is its drive to account for the broader, even metaphysical implications of what he submits to lucid scientific analysis.
What are we to make of life's defiance of the laws of physics? Where does our knowledge of life's reproductive mechanisms leave us with regard to our understanding of our place in the cosmic order of things?
And importantly, who are we who seek to know the nature of things like life matter and their interaction?
These are the kind of questions that lurk in the penumbra of Schrodinger's book.
For what interests him most crucially is to bring scientific explanation to an outer perimeter from which, or beyond which, thinking may provoke a revelation of the irreducibly occult nature of reality.
This is most evident in the epilogue to what is life. It's brief, fragmentary, and altogether bizarre, foray into this issue of determinism and free will.
Seems to come out of nowhere, and from what I can tell, this epilogue has been largely, if not completely ignored, even by the most ardent Schrodinger enthusiasts.
Sure, someone out there will say, "No, it hasn't been ignored at all. Look at this page. Look at this journal. Look at that publication."
I haven't found anything on it, which is what intrigued me to further these reflections on Schrodinger.
The epilogue's eccentric afterthought, that's what I would call it. It has next to nothing to do with a matter at hand, namely what is life.
Yet Schrodinger insists there that he has earned the right to turn his thinking to the deeper question of what his investigation of the question of life all means in the end.
I'm quoting him, "As a reward for the serious trouble I have taken to expound the purely scientific aspects of our problem, seen a iraq."
Without anger or eagerness, I beg leave to add my own, necessarily subjective view of the philosophical implications."
I would like briefly to review what Schrodinger takes to be these philosophical implications of his physics of the living cell.
So in less than four pages in the epilogue, Schrodinger seeks to resolve the apparent contradiction between the following two premises, each of which, or so he claims, is true.
I'm quoting. One, my body functions as a pure mechanism according to the laws of nature.
Two, yet I know by incontrovertible experience that I am directing its motions.
Neither of the two premises has been established, given that one, Schrodinger has shown that the body is in fact a very exceptional phenomenon whose laws are quite different from mechanical laws.
And two, there really has been no discussion in the preceding pages of who or what directs the body's motion.
This is not a problematic of the lectures, what is life.
Nevertheless, Schrodinger presumes to reconcile his two premises by parametrally declaring the following, "the only possible inference from these two facts is, I think, that I, I in the widest meaning of the word, that is to say every conscious mind that has ever said or felt I, am the person, if any, who controls the motion of the atoms."
According to the laws of nature.
Now, that statement is not as innocuous as it sounds, because for Schrodinger, the one who controls the motion of the atoms is God, or the transcendent force we might call God.
Indeed, he doesn't shrink from declaring that were he defrays his conclusion in more simple words.
He would be obliged to clear, I quote, "I am God Almighty."
I am God Almighty.
According to him again, consider whether the above inference that I am God is not the closest that a biologist can get to proving God an immortality at one stroke.
He then goes on, does Schrodinger to appeal to the authority of the Upanishads?
Where wisdom consists in the realization that, quote, "the personal self equals, the omnipresent all comprehending eternal self."
He appeals furthermore to the mystics of the Christian tradition, as well as to the spontaneous certainty of, quote, "those true lovers who when they look into each other's eyes become aware that their thought and their joy are numerically won."
So the main piece is here is the following, quote, "consciousness is never experienced in the plural only in the singular."
Expressed even more decisively, quote, "again consciousness is a singular of which the plural is unknown."
Schrodinger's conclusion, quote, "there is only one thing in the universe."
And what seems to be a plurality is merely a series of different aspects of the same thing produced by a deception, the Indian Maya.
These are extravagant claims indeed, and it leads me to suspect, or maybe his readers to suspect, that either Schrodinger the scientist went on holiday here, or that he had been reading too much Aldous Huxley at the time.
In fact, in a note to his epilogue, he acknowledges his debt to Huxley's book, "The Perennial Philosophy," which he calls a beautiful book, singularly fit to explain not only the state of affairs,
of human consciousness, but also why it is so difficult to grasp and so liable to meet with opposition.
So I would say that the epilogue performs a sudden somersault that propels us out of the realm of scientific reasoning and into a completely different realm of mystical speculation.
In the form it takes here, that mystical somersault is neither great science nor great thinking.
We shouldn't fool ourselves about that.
Yet I believe it would be a mistake to dismiss it, or not to take it seriously, or to divorce its intent from Schrodinger scientific vocation.
In fact, I see the epilogue sleep as a parting reminder to the reader that scientific knowledge of the material world,
In the final analysis throws us back upon the essential mystery of things, including the mystery of those who pursue science in the first place, namely ourselves.
What Schrodinger discusses so inadequately in his epilogue to what his life, he treats in a much more serious, rigorous, and systematic vein in his other little book called "Mind and Matter."
In fact, both of these little books are contained in the same edition published by Cambridge University Press, the most recent edition of which was published in the year 2004, so you can get both of these in one volume.
And I can't summarize here all the fascinating phenomena, physical and psychical that Schrodinger deals with in this other provocative series of lectures called "Mind and Matter."
Suffice it to say that he is primarily concerned here with two "antinemies" as he calls him, which are reminiscent of yet not identical to the two premises mentioned above.
Schrodinger phrases the first "antinemy" as follows, "All our knowledge about the world around us rests entirely on immediate sense perception, yet in the picture or model we form of the outside world,
guided by our scientific discoveries, all sensual qualities are absent."
End quote.
The second "antinemy" can be phrased as follows.
While the mind is a prime actor in the world, the place where mind touches matter is unlocatable, perhaps even non-existent.
Let's take these two "antinemies" one at a time.
Discussing the way the world in our scientific description of it is deprived of sensual qualities, Schrodinger dwells at length on the example of the color yellow.
He writes, "If you ask a physicist, what is his idea of yellow light? He will tell you that it is transversal electromagnetic waves of wave length in the neighborhood of five hundred and ninety millimicroons?"
Yet if you ask him where the sensation yellow fits into his picture, the physicist will answer that it doesn't enter his picture at all.
All he knows is that continuing to quote.
"These kinds of vibrations, when they hit the retina of a healthy eye, give the person whose eye it is the sensation of yellow."
End quote.
The sensation of color as color cannot be accounted for either by the physicists, description of light waves, nor by the physiologist, description of retina's nerve fibers, brain processes, etc.
Quote, "We may be sure there is no nervous process whose objective description includes the characteristics yellow color or sweet taste.
Just as little as the objective description of an electromagnetic wave includes either of these characteristics." End quote.
In his ensuing discussion of the sensation of sound, Schrodinger arrives at exactly the same conclusion, namely that while we have an exact physicalistic understanding of the characteristics of sound waves, and an equally exact understanding of the physiological mechanisms,
by which the inner and outer ears register them, quote, "Neither the physicist, description, nor that of the physiologist contains any trait of the sensation of sound."
This is a prodigious paradox because all scientific knowledge passes through our senses, even when it relies on computers and measuring instruments.
You have to read those off a screen. You have to hear them off an instrument.
So all scientific knowledge passes through our senses, yet sensation as such is alien or unknown to science. Why?
Because the experience of color, touch, taste, and sound takes place in a realm that lies outside of the purview of science.
The experience of sound, quote, simply is not contained in our scientific picture, but is only in the mind of the person whose ear and brain we are speaking of.
This mind, it turns out, is altogether inaccessible to the objectiveist reach of science. What is...
Well, Schrodinger's first Antonymy blends into this second Antonymy regarding the place where mind and matter intersect.
Now, by mind Schrodinger means the subject of cognizance as well as of sentience, and the reason why sensation, emotion, and thought are absent from the scientific pictures because,
quote, "without being aware of it and without being rigorously systematic about it, we exclude the subject of cognizance from the domain of nature that we endeavor to understand."
End quote. By that Schrodinger means that, quote, "we step with our own person back into the part of an onlooker who does not belong to the world, which by this very procedure becomes an objective world."
This stepping back is a necessary condition for scientific knowledge, which means objective knowledge, and Schrodinger is aware that it is actually a high price to pay, as he calls it.
I continue to regard the removal of the subject of cognizance from the objective world picture as the high price paid for a fairly satisfactory picture of the world.
And one has to say that he often reiterates his conviction in mind and matter that it's not an unfair price to pay.
And in this regard, he is unlike someone like Jung, for example, who, quote, "blames us for paying this ransom."
Schrodinger quotes Jung in mind and matter, who Jung who lamented, these are Jung's words now, "all science, vis-and-shaft is a function of the soul in which all knowledge is rooted.
The soul is the greatest of all cosmic miracles. It is the Condites You'll see Nick Wannone of the world as an object.
It is exceedingly astonishing that the Western world, apart from very rare exceptions, seems to have so little appreciation of this being so.
The flood of external objects of cognizance has made the subject of all cognizance withdraw to the background, often to apparent non-existence.
Although at bottom, he agrees with Jung on this score, Schrodinger nevertheless cautions that, quote, "a rapid withdrawal from the position held for 2,000 years is dangerous."
In other words, he's not calling for a science to turn a suicidal gun on its own head.
And certainly that caution I would imagine is well-founded. Perhaps what is called for is a slow withdrawal, if not a rapid withdrawal.
But it's probably even better to say that what is called for is an inner transmutation of the objectivist mission of science.
One of Schrodinger's heroes among scientists was Sir Charles Sherrington, who was an experimental physiologist early 20th century,
who embodied two qualities which for Schrodinger are utterly crucial to the calling of science, honesty and sincerity.
Early on in mind and matter Schrodinger says, "The scientists only imposes two things, namely truth and sincerity."
The word "honest" is used repeatedly with respect to Schrodinger, about whom Schrodinger writes the following, quote,
"Sharington, with his superior knowledge of what is actually going on in a living body, is seen struggling with a paradox, which in his candidness and absolute intellectual sincerity, he does not try to hide away or explain away as many others would have done, nay, have done."
But he always almost brutally exposes it, knowing very well that this is the only way of driving any problem in science or philosophy, nearer its solution.
The paradox Schrodinger is referring to here is the existence of a mind that is the matrix of feeling, perceiving and thinking, but yields no evidence of itself there where these events of feeling, perceiving and thinking presumably occur.
Just as in his epilogue to what his life Schrodinger had declared, there are not many, many minds, but only one universal mind in his mind and matter, he quotes "Sharington" to the effect that from the physiological perspective, there would appear to be many sub-minds in the brain.
I don't know enough about brain physiology, you know what these sub-minds refer to, but "Sharington" says that despite the fact that there would appear to be multiple sub-minds, we know that there is finally only one mind.
This is the mind that says "I" in the singular, even when it suffers from schizophrenia, I have to say I'm quite reminded of a manual Kant in the critique of pure reason when he's talking about the synthetic unity of a perception precisely in the use of the first person singular.
Nevertheless, Kant does not enter into the discussion here. What Scharington wants to drive home is the fact that the mind has no native home in the brain.
These are not just idle speculations of a scientist whose name has been now largely forgotten. This is one of the most crucial issues in our own time regarding what is the relationship between the mind and the brain.
So with that, let me quote a long passage from Scharington's immortal book, as Schrodinger calls it, "Man on Nature was a title of that book where Scharington writes the following."
Are there thus quasi-independent sub-brains based on the several modalities of sense?
Because it would seem that for the sense of touch, the sense of hearing, the sense of sight, and so forth, there are separate clusters in the brain where these sensations are registered.
He asks, "Are there quasi-independent sub-brains based on the several modalities of sense?" In the roof-brain, the old five senses instead of being merged inextricably in one another and further submerged under mechanisms of higher order are still plain to find, each demarcated in its separate sphere.
Fascinating with respect to synesthesia all this, how far is the mind a collection of quasi-independent perceptual minds integrated psychically in large measure by temporal concurrence of experience?
That's a question.
When it is a question of mind, the nervous system does not integrate itself by centralization upon a pontifical cell.
Rather, it elaborates a million-fold democracy whose each unit is a cell.
The concrete life compounded of sub-lives, reveals, although integrated, its additive nature, and declares itself an affair of minute folk-eye of life acting together.
When, however, we turn to the mind away from the brain, there is nothing of all this.
The single nerve cell is never a miniature brain.
The cellular constitution of the body need not be for any hint of it from mind.
A single pontifical brain cell could not assure to the mental reaction a character more unified and non-atomic than does the brain, roofs, multitudinous sheets of cells.
Matter and energy seem granular in structure, and so does life, but not so the mind.
What we encounter here is the puzzlement of a scientist who has looked everywhere within his scientific purview for the mind's connection with matter and has come up empty-handed.
It is more than puzzlement, it is astonishment.
Sherrington writes, "Then the impasse meets us, the blank of the how of mind's leverage on matter.
The inconsequent staggers us. Is it a misunderstanding?"
Analytic philosophers may well say that it is a misunderstanding, and that Schrodinger's and Sherrington's use of the word "mind" is confused or inconsistent.
Yet their academic misery does not touch us here.
"Lavoste-misei-di-anomitange," as they be a transistor Virgil in Inferno 2.
What interests us is the call to thinking in declarations of Schrodinger like the following, "mind has erected the objective outside world of the natural philosopher out of its own stuff.
Mind could not cope with this gigantic task otherwise than by the simplifying device of excluding its sense.
It is excluding itself withdrawing from its conceptual creation."
Perhaps it is only by virtue of its abstention from the picture of its own self-withdrawal that mind makes room for its conceptual creation.
That is, for the world of space and time as such.
Perhaps it is the mind's removal from creation that makes for the movement of the sun and the other stars, or the movement of thought that thinks on objects, or the movement of perception that takes cognizance of them through the medium of sensation.
Perhaps the world, like a stage or a patsa, needs to be empty if it is to be filled, and that mind leaves behind in its wake as it were this original emptiness in whose void the phenomenon first makes its appearance.
Indeed, perhaps it is because mind has left behind no hard evidence of itself in its creation that reductionists like Edward O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and any number of other pseudoscientific materialists can claim that there is no ghost in the machine that mind is a declension of the brain and parts of the nervous central nervous system.
Or, in Edward O. Wilson's summation of the reductionists' view, I quote Wilson, "The human mind is a device for survival and reproduction."
The intellect was not constructed to understand atoms or even to understand itself, but to promote the survival of human genes.
Aesthetic judgments and religious beliefs must have arisen by the same mechanistic process."
End quote.
I actually like Edward Wilson. He was here for a conference a couple of years ago, very nice gentleman, but I obviously don't share his reductionism.
A reductionist is by definition an enemy of wonder.
And for a reductionist, the fact that one cannot find any material evidence for what Schrodinger calls the mind means that the mind is not a trans-organic phenomena, whereas for Schrodinger.
The absence of material evidence in the scientific picture of the brain is the most wondrous of all confirmations of the mind's spiritual and even transcendent nature.
When Schrodinger declares that the mind's conceptual creation does not contain its creator, he is making a statement that cannot be verified.
Since verification belongs to the domain of the conceptual creation, that is, to the objective world of the natural philosophy.
Whether or not we believe as Schrodinger does, or did, that there are no discrete minds in the plural, but only one universal mind to which all individual minds belong by participation.
We can be sure that the blank of the how of the mind's leverage on matter is a genuine blank, and not just the result of a linguistic or categorical confusion.
We can also trust Schrodinger when he claims a following, "While the stuff from which our world picture is built is yielded exclusively from the sense organs as organs of the mind,
so that every man's world picture is and always remains a construct of his mind and cannot be proved to have any other existence, yet the conscious mind itself remains a stranger within that construct.
It has no living space. You can spot it nowhere in space."
Again, it is not a belief in ghosts that affirms this; it is the honest and sincere scientific search for the place where mind and matter intersect.
A place that withholds its location, even as it constantly takes place in animal sensation and human consciousness.
This is what one might call the mystical irony of Schrodinger's thought, namely, his awareness that scientific knowledge is a form of not knowing.
His awareness that there is a blind spot at the heart of the scientific world picture, and not just any blind spot, but one that opens the objective field of vision itself.
As the subject of sensation and cognition, the mind is the happening of perception itself.
It is the conversion of matter into meaning, the translation of nature into world, and the opening of the eye that sees things for what they are.
This happening of world disclosures what science does not see as it scrutinizes what appears within its field of vision.
Schrodinger called on its not to overcome but to acknowledge the irony of this human condition, because that's what it is finally a condition.
To acknowledge it as inelectable and ultimately fruitful.
Such acknowledgement is not easy, though. It means living with or better living in the mystery of who we are, and that means living in the mystery of not knowing finally who we are, in so far, as we are sentient and thinking beings.
This in turn means accepting the fact that the selfhood of a person is not located in the interior of his or her body.
We are so accustomed, Schrodinger says, to locating the conscious personality, "inside a person's head," I should say an inch or two behind the midpoint of the eyes, and quote, that we forget that this localization,
again, quoting, is only symbolic, just an aid for practical use. We forget that it's only symbolic.
We may, as Schrodinger writes, quote, "observ several effervent bundles of pulsating currents which issue from the brain, and through long cellular protrusions, motor nerve fibers, are conducted to certain muscles of the arm, which as a consequence, tens, a hesitating, trembling hand to bid you farewell."
For a long heart-rending separation, at the same time you may find that some other pulsating bundles produce a certain glandular, so as to veil the poor sad eyes with a crepe of tears, but nowhere along this way, from the eye, through the central organ to the arm muscles and the tear glands, nowhere you may be sure, however far physiology advances,
will you ever meet the personality, will you ever meet the dire pain, the bewildered worry within this soul?"
End quote.
I think we can take a short break there about one minute.
End quote.
End quote.
End quote.
End quote.
End quote.
Jeff Beck again.
So I just read a long quote from Schrodinger about the "never will you meet the dire pain, the bewildered worry within this soul."
So the scientists, the physiologist, the physicist, finding himself at such a loss, if he's a thinking scientist, will be confronted by the mystery of what our scientific picture of the world fails to contain.
By the same token, one is confronted by the mystery of what that picture does in fact contain, namely the stubborn existence of matter.
In fact, I find it much more mysterious what is in the picture than what is outside of the picture.
Nothing is more mysterious, finally, than matter.
In its refusal to yield the secret of its connection to mind.
And I know that mind is a completely impoverished word here for the phenomenon in question.
But be that as it may, we continue to use it because it's Schrodinger's word.
The more we learn about matter, in its inanimate modes, the more we actually fail to grasp its nature.
This failure has nothing to do with Bacon's broken knowledge.
And everything to do with the way the world of matter resists humanization.
All the more so, when it lends itself to scientific explanation, we simply cannot, nor will we ever recognize ourselves in the picture.
Short of a mystical vision that takes us beyond our human limitations.
In what is life Schrodinger probes the disconnection between the laws of physics and the phenomenon of life?
In mind and matter, he probes the disconnection between our lived experience of sentient cognition and emotion on the one hand,
and the material substrate on which that experience depends on the other.
A scientist are not particularly fond of disconnections, and Schrodinger suggests on various occasions that it takes a great deal of intellectual sincerity to acknowledge the blanks, the impasses, and the dead ends of scientific information.
That is one reason why he admired Sir Charles Sherrington so much, who in his absolute intellectual sincerity did not hide away or explain away the paradoxes that he struggled with, but brutally exposed them.
Quote, "knowing very well that this is the only way of driving any problem in science or philosophy near its nearer to its solution."
I would venture to put forward the notion that this is the kind of sincerity we do not always find in the scientific discourse of our times today.
A scientific discourse which is often reluctant to acknowledge how much is left out of its increasingly delimited objective is a picture of matter above all of living matter.
Certainly when it comes to the relation between mind and matter, we find a particular aversion to grapple with the quandaries in a meaningful way.
Rather we just hide them away more than grapple with them.
There is this widespread tendency, I believe, to either hide or explain away the paradoxes through reductionists or purely materialist schemes.
Rather than to confess, the inadequacy of those schemes when it comes to matters infusion by spirit.
Now we do not ask of science to abandon its drive to explain natural phenomena through natural causes.
Science is one of the glories of the world.
But the lesson one draws from Schrodinger, at least that I am drawing from Schrodinger, my reading of him, is that one may ask of science that it strive to become more thoughtful.
To say nothing of becoming more respectful with regard to the misterium that permeates and surrounds the world of nature.
Instead of becoming more thoughtful, however, science today seems determined to become ever more defensive with respect to suggestions that there is more between heaven and earth than dreamt of in your philosophy.
In a recent New York Times editorial, physicist Paul Davies declared that a rigid separation between science and faith is untenable, since science has a faith of its own when it comes to believing in the existence and immutability of the laws of nature.
I quote Davies from that article clearly both religion and science are founded on faith, namely on belief in the existence of something outside the universe, like an unexplained god or an unexplained set of physical laws, maybe even a huge ensemble of unseen universes too.
For that reason, both monotheistic religion and orthodox science fail to provide a complete account of physical existence.
There is the scientist in Davies' ultimate goal is still to provide a complete account of physical existence.
This is the passion I was talking about at the beginning. There is nothing to do about it. If you have that passion, then you are a bona fide scientist.
I have absolutely no desire myself to come up with a complete account of physical existence.
On the other hand, a revelation of the unthinkable, the unimaginable, the completely improbable. That would turn me on.
Anyway, Davies relates in that article how over the years he is often asked his physicist colleagues where the laws of the physical universe come from, and why they are the way they are.
The replies vary from "that's not a scientific question" to "nobody knows". The favorite reply he writes is "there's no reason why they are what they are, they just are".
But Davies rightly insists that there is at least a paradox here.
Remember, acknowledging a paradox is the very beginning of intellectual sincerity in this domain.
So the paradox is on the one hand we believe that the existence of laws certifies that nature is open to rational investigation and explanation.
On the other, we believe that those same laws are without reason.
The we here include those scientists who insist that science has no business dealing with these paradoxes, and who feel that any attempt to do so would threaten the integrity of science itself.
Precisely because one cannot deal with such a paradox scientifically.
Davies article in fact elicited an enormous response in the blogosphere, much of it hostile and much of it from his fellow scientists, who took Davies to task for even suggests
that science and religion are not as far apart as some believe.
Schrodinger, who was a hero to many of those who attacked Davies, was not nearly as defensive about the promiscuous relationship between science and religion.
Early in mind and matter he addresses the paradox of one world crystallizing out of the many minds.
Later in the same book he discusses the paradox confronted by Sherrington regarding one mind arising out of manifold sub-brains.
quoting Schrodinger, "I submit that both paradoxes will be solved by assimilating into our western build of science the eastern doctrine of identity.
Mind is by its very nature a sing-gu-latt-tantum.
I should say the overall number of minds is just one.
I venture to call it indestructible since it has a peculiar timetable.
Namely, mind is always now. There is really no before or after for mind.
There is only a now that includes memories and expectations."
Schrodinger's speculation about mind and the singular, very reminiscent of avaroys is universal intellect, by the way, but we won't get into that here.
These speculations are beyond the pale of science to be sure.
Yet it was science that led him to them.
In his own words, "But I grant that our language is not adequate to express this,
and I also grant should anyone wish to state it that I am now talking religion, not science."
A religion, however, not opposed to science but supported by what's disinterested scientific research has brought to the fore.
One cannot say that in the past half-century science has moved in the direction Schrodinger envisioned when he spoke of assimilating our western build of assimilating
into our western build of science other kinds of doctrines, more spiritually oriented than the militant materialism of the western models.
If anything western science has become ever more narrow-minded, if you'll permit me that pun,
and ever more dominated by its drive to explain as opposed to reveal,
That explanatory drive and turn is bound up with the whole era of modern technology,
or the drive of modern technology to achieve what Descartes called a complete mastery and possession of nature.
As a result of such a drive, much of contemporary science remains aggressively objectivistic,
as it continues to advance and to realize that Cartesian dream, which is rapidly becoming a reality for better or worse.
It is impossible to imagine a universe more astonishing than ours or a phenomenon more miraculous than a living cell.
Yet without a sentient mind to take cognizance of it, the world remains a mute, colorless, impalvable, and altogether wonderless place.
Schrodinger could not get himself to believe that the world had to wait for a wholly contingent evolutionary development as the animal brain in order to take cognizance of itself.
The animal brain is a very special contraption he tells us that facilitates the propagation and preservation of certain species.
Remember the Wilson quote.
That's the brain. Have it. Wilson was talking about the mind, the human mind.
For millions, if not billions of years, many life forms maintain themselves without such contraptions as brains,
and many today still do so.
Schrodinger, only a small fraction of them if you count by species have embarked on getting themselves a brain.
This scientific fact raises the overwhelming question for Schrodinger.
Before certain creatures, and in particular human beings acquired brains, was the world a glorious spectacle without witness?
Quote, "Should it all have been a performance to empty stalls?"
Nay, may we call a world that nobody contemplates even that, a world?
That question was so disturbing that Schrodinger goes on to ask,
"But a world existing for many millions of years without any mind being aware of it, contemplating it.
Is it anything at all?"
In a statement that assures us that he was not a dualist, or at least not a conventional dualist,
Schrodinger declares that it is a misnomer to say that the world is reflected in a conscious mind.
He writes, "The world is given once, not twice. Nothing is reflected. The original and the mirror image are identical.
The world extended in space and time is but our representation."
The romance of the world, as he calls it, the romance that the world had with itself prior to the evolution of the brains that became the biological substrate for conscious minds.
This romance of the world is perhaps the darkest of all blind spots in the picture of human knowledge.
One does not know what to make of it.
In hide-a-gearing terms, one would say that without design there is no sign or without human existence there is no being, without human being there is no being.
Hence, prior to humanity's advent in the world, there was no world to speak of.
Nature existed to be sure yet it had no being.
Schrodinger does not use this hide-a-gearing language of being instead, without resolving the paradox or dispelling the blindness it condemns us to.
He says that sometimes a painter will smuggle into his painting an unobtrusive self-portrait.
For example, Michelangelo does this in his last judgment fresco.
Those of you who have seen that at the bottom, you see a little self-portrait Michelangelo there in that fresco.
Or a poet will do something similar as when Homer gives a discreet portrait of himself in the blind bard, whose sings of the Trojan War and the halls of the Phychans.
Schrodinger declares, "To me, this seems to be the best simile of the bewildering double role of the mind.
On the one hand, mind is the artist who has produced the whole.
In the accomplished work, however, it is but an insignificant accessory that might be absent without detracting from the total effect."
Schrodinger's reflections on mind are so unabashedly speculative that they can be easily dismissed by scientists and philosophers alike.
Yet, we don't need to defend the truth value of his claims in order to affirm that those reflections show why Schrodinger was a great thinker.
It takes a great scientific thinker to think through the picture and beyond it, even if there is nothing that thinker can do to coerce its author into the picture.
Schrodinger, "I do not find God anywhere in space and time. That is what the honest naturalist tells you.
For this, he incurs blame from him in whose catechism it is written God is spirit."
That sounds like the statement of a believer.
A defense of the vulgar atheist in like, "Den it, doggings," and so forth.
The God delusion, authors of books like that.
The difficulty of speaking of certain matters does not mean that he who raises his voice about them is a dreamer or a fool.
So, when Wittgenstein famously ends his tractatus with the proposition, "Where of one cannot speak, one must remain silent."
We could answer that the one thing we learn from mind and matter and to some extent also what is life is that the intrinsic limitations of human knowledge, especially in its objectives manifestations, is not an excuse for silence.
On the contrary, our refusal to remain silent about that where of one cannot speak is the best evidence for what we might call the life of the mind.
That is why we can go along with Schrodinger when he declares, "Most painful is the absolute silence of all our scientific investigations towards our questions concerning the meaning and scope of the whole display."
The more attentively we watch it, the more aimless and foolish it appears.
The show that is going on obviously acquires a meaning only with regard to the mind that contemplates it.
But what science tells us about this relationship is patently absurd.
As if mind had only been produced by that very display that is now watching and would pass away with it when the sun finally cools down.
The earth has been turned into a desert of ice and snow.
It is to be hoped that this absolute silence of scientific research, as it pursues its objectives of an unconditional mastery and possession of nature, will not turn the earth into such a desert long before the sun finally cools down.
It is to be hoped, furthermore, that the stalls will not go empty again before the show comes to an end.
Meanwhile, this show, my friends, has come to an end. Bye-bye.