Problems, Problems – Life, the Universe and Consciousness

Life, the Universe and Consciousness” is a forthcoming book by A T Bollands (Natural Philosopher). It’s a meme of a title, a nod to Douglas Adams I’ve used several times before myself.

It’s a good version because it captures the three elements – living, physical and psychic – which are bound up in so many of the controversial conundrums of … err … modern day science. Anyway, he’s started a series of tweets laying out the 12 “intractable problems” as he sees them, P1 to P12.

I’ve never identified specifically 12 hard problems resolved by a new philosophical worldview, although my own thesis is that these are in general solved by already available alternate – non-orthodox – views, ancient and new, most of which are self-consistent beyond their own rhetorical choices of language.

ie my position is (a) that scientific orthodoxy is the problem, and (b) that alternative views exist that solve it. However I’m interested in a new 12 point formulation of the problem, whether or not they’re really just multiple corollaries of three or four problems, or maybe reducible to a single issue? In fact, in his opening post he does call it “the Big Problem” in the singular.

They are P0, followed by P1 to P12 under this pinned tweet, with all the dialogue under the 12 replies to the original. (Good use of Twitter.)

      • P0 – We are pretty sure the 20th century scientific worldview provides the correct foundation for understanding the world around us; we just can’t understand why there are so many intractable problems that cannot be solved, given this worldview. (P0)
      • P1 – We are pretty sure that humans possess consciousness; we just don’t know why, given that every material thing is made ultimately from simple non-experiencing material things, and whenever we combine such things, we expect to create another non-experiencing material thing. (P1)
      • P2 – We are pretty sure that human brains create consciousness; we just don’t know how, given that it’s inconceivable how brain processes, involving non-experiencing matter, could possibly create consciousness. (P2)
      • P3 – We are pretty sure that only animals with larger, complex brains possess consciousness, we just don’t know which ones, since we don’t know the physical, functional or behavioural characteristics of animals that possess it. (P3)
      • P4 – We are pretty sure that humans and other animals evolved to possess consciousness; we just don’t know how, since we cannot see when consciousness evolved or what evolutionary advantage it could have given us. (P4)
      • P5 – We are pretty sure we have free-will and consciously choose how we act; we just can’t see how, given that the behaviour of all matter in the universe is determined by the Laws of Nature. (P5)
      • P6 – We are pretty sure the behaviour of everything is determined by the Laws of Nature, we just can’t say what these are, because our best theories of physics – General Relativity and Quantum Mechanics – are incompatible and cannot be reduced to a single underlying theory. (p6)
      • P7 – We are pretty sure the theory of Quantum Mechanics provides an accurate description of the sub-atomic world; we just don’t see how, since the world it describes does not make clear, coherent sense. (P7)
      • P8 – We are pretty sure, from the General Theory of Relativity, that the universe began with a Big Bang; we just don’t know how or why, since there was nothing that existed before the Big Bang that could have caused it. (P8)
      • P9 – We are pretty sure the fundamental Laws of Nature were fixed at the time of the Big Bang; we just don’t understand how it was they were finely tuned to enable Life to exist some billions of years later. (P9)
      • P10 – We are pretty sure that Life began on earth around 4 billion years ago; we just don’t understand how, given that the chances of a living thing capable of evolution emerging by chance were vanishingly small. (P10)
      • P11 – We are pretty sure that living things exist; we just don’t know how they are able to maintain their ordered existence, far from equilibrium with their environment, in defiance of the second law of thermodynamics. (P11)
      • P12 -We are pretty sure that Life exists; we just struggle to say what it is, despite multiple attempts to define a clear and meaningful distinction between living things and non-living things. (P12)

Obviously, given the nature of twitter timelines, I didn’t see every point in real time, but I interacted with a few I noticed along the way.

Equally obviously, given my existing metaphysical position, I disagreed with most of the “We are pretty sure that …” statements, in the sense I’m pretty sure they’re not true. And pretty clearly they are grouped in topics:

      • The nature of consciousness & free-will? in P1, 2, 3, 4, 5
      • The nature of the physical world & its laws? in P6, 7, 8, 9
      • The nature of life? in P10, 11, 12

An odd order to me, given my evolutionary understanding: Big Bang > Physics > Life > Conscious will and the recurring questions.

      • What is physics and how did we get from zero to physics?
      • What is life and how did physics come to life?
      • What is wilful, intelligent consciousness and how did it evolve from life?

Good sign that P11 has the 2nd law in there – It led me to presume Bollands may hold a metaphysical / ontological position similar to mine. One public paper of his is a case for pan-psychism, but it seems that’s not his position. In fact all dialogue suggested he didn’t agree with any of my informational / pan-proto-psychist takes – which left me intrigued. The inevitability jumps out of the 2nd law at me.

[I should be clear “my metaphysics” isn’t some wild new grand unified theory of everything (TOE) like some crank hanging round the public library. My position is simply a statement that the answers to all these “problems” are already out there in mainstream science and philosophy which has simply been drowned out by the orthodox memes of objective science in our modern days of “science with everything”.]

Popper said “All life is problem solving”. I await Bollands’ further thoughts in anticipation.

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