A crisis in science

Science is on the brink – of either a stunning breakthrough or the abyss of defeat. 

For centuries, science has progressed from superstition to discovery, and current predictions include the promise of solving nature's greatest mysteries.  New discoveries, it is said, will lead to dramatic advances in technology that will usher in the dawn of the age of Star Trek.  Flying cars, miracle cures, and servant-robots are just some of the astonishing changes that are expected – changes that will revolutionize our lives beyond our present ability to imagine.  Could the earliest cavemen have imagined the impact that the discovery of fire would portend?  Could they have imagined nuclear power?

But not all the predictions include Scotty beaming us up.  There is a principle of diminishing returns, less additional profit for each additional dollar of investment.  That principle may apply as mercilessly to science as it does to business.  Worse yet, for the hopes and dreams of future Captains Kirk, is the image of a brick wall, or alternatively, of a vast canyon that cannot be bridged.

That brick wall may already have been encountered.  It is something we all know about, yet most of us underestimate it.  We all take for granted our consciousness, but science can no longer take it for granted.  Science cannot explain consciousness.  It cannot even adequately define our inward experience of it, despite the fact that we all have it.  How do atoms give rise to organisms that can wonder about what an atom is?

We do explain it, but not in scientific terms.  Science struggles with the question, and so far, it cannot leap across that grandest of canyons. 

Worse yet, for science, is the fact that science itself has made some astounding discoveries that indicate that consciousness may be not merely a result of atoms, but rather the foundation of them.  The most popularized example of this is demonstrated in what is called the double-slit experiment, something every physicist knows about.  Videos about it are well worth looking up.  The main takeaway is that atoms seem, according to many scientists, to behave differently when a conscious observer is watching them.  In other words, consciousness may be not a happenstance byproduct, without which the universe as we know it could exist, but rather an underlying principle of the cosmos.  Read that slowly, because science may be flailing (and failing) to avoid that conclusion.

It is as if we had souls.  It is as if in addition to physical reality, there is a spiritual reality.  To many scientists, this is heresy.

Ironically, the acceptance of a new paradigm, a spiritual one, might actually rescue science, not end it.  If science can look upon the human brain not as the generator of conscious thought, but rather as its instrument, then new avenues of research become available.  Who knows what doors may be opened?

Who knew what the discovery of fire would bring about?