Can science solve life’s mysteries?

From The Guardian:

Sci

There is much speculation about the nature of the mind, its relation to the brain, even doubt that the word “mind” is meaningful. According to EO Wilson, “The brain and its satellite glands have now been probed to the point where no particular site remains that can reasonably be supposed to harbour a nonphysical mind”. Perhaps this statement is to be taken as tongue in cheek. But to prove a negative, or to treat it as having been proved, is, oddly enough, an old and essential strategy of positivism. So I do feel obliged to point out that if such a site could be found in the brain, then the mind would be physical in the same sense that anything else with a locus in the brain is physical. To define the mind as nonphysical in the first place clearly prejudices his conclusion. Steven Pinker, on the soul, asks, “How does the spook interact with solid matter? How does an ethereal nothing respond to flashes, pokes and beeps and get arms and legs to move? Another problem is the overwhelming evidence that the mind is the activity of the brain. The supposedly immaterial soul, we now know, can be bisected with a knife, altered by chemicals,” and so on. By identifying the soul with the mind, the mind with the brain, and noting the brain's vulnerability as a physical object, he feels he has debunked a conception of the soul that only those who find the word meaningless would ever have entertained.

This declension, from the ethereality of the mind/soul as spirit to the reality of the mind/brain as a lump of meat, is dependent, conceptually and for its effects, on precisely the antique dualism these writers who claim to speak for science believe they reject and refute. If complex life is the marvel we all say it is, quite possibly unique to this planet, then meat is, so to speak, that marvel in its incarnate form. It was dualism that pitted the spirit against the flesh, investing spirit with all that is lofty at the expense of flesh, which is by contrast understood as coarse and base. It only perpetuates dualist thinking to treat the physical as if it were in any way sufficiently described in disparaging terms. If the mind is the activity of the brain, this means only that the brain is capable of such lofty and astonishing things that their expression has been given the names mind, and soul, and spirit. Complex life may well be the wonder of the universe, and if it is, its status is not diminished by the fact that we can indeed bisect it, that we kill it routinely.

More here.

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