Sunday, October 21, 2007

Brain Cramps - The Puzzle of Consciousness

First of all, this blog entry is not a report on consciousness. It is also, strangely enough, not a complain but more of a praise of this book review, especially in the restraint in invoking the physics aspects. So after complaining and whining about the bastardization of physics in several psychotic pseudoscience books and news report, this is a compliment to this news article.

This article, written by Dan Falk, is a review of a book titled "THE HEAD TRIP: Adventures on the Wheel of Consciousness" by Jeff Warren. As I've said, there is a very wise restraint on the part of the writer of the article to not make too many unproven connections between consciousness and physics. He even wisely mentioned of the fallacy of movies such as "What the bleep do we know".

That's easy enough to say and, judging by the number of people who lined up to see What the Bleep Do We Know and What the Bleep: Down the Rabbit Hole, it's the kind of speculation that many of us are all too eager to embrace. (Happily, Warren doesn't mention either of these films, dismissed by most scientists as pseudoscientific drivel.)

There's even a very wise advice regarding invoking string theory:

But who says that the ebb and flow of neurons requires 21st-century physics? Relativity becomes important when objects move near the speed of light, or when large gravitational fields are involved; quantum theory says a great deal about the subatomic realm, but very little about the macroscopic world. (And Warren should be careful about citing string theory; as tantalizing as it is mathematically, it has yet to make a testable prediction about physics, let alone consciousness.)

When people try to apply the principles of physics into their area of study that is outside physics, they need to be aware of several important things:

1. Is that principle been tested and deemed by the physics community to be valid?

2. Do I know the principle well enough beyond just a superficial knowledge to know what is saying?

3. Is there a clear, direct, and demonstrable connection or similarity between the principle, and the scenario that I'm applying it to?

4. Are there any quantitative data to illustrate the validity of #3?

If you are arguing the validity of your claim by invoking physics, then the stringent rule of physics also applies to your claim. You can't pick and choose which part of physics, and the practice of physics, you want to adopt and ignore the rest. So if you wish to live by physics, be aware that you may also die by physics.


1 comment:

yellow rain tree said...

Thank you, thank you for saying something about all of the misunderstandings surrounding a beautiful field of study. I live in VA and I get tired of finding books about philosophy and religion in the physics section of the Barnes and Noble. I even went so far as to bring these to an employee telling them that someone hasd misplaced the books in the wrong section. I found out that the employees had placed them there.