When I was in my 20s, I had a friend who was talented, charming, Ivy League-educated, wealthy, and heir to family wealth. I will call him Gallagher. He can do whatever he wants. He conducts experiments and is involved in neuroscience, law, philosophy and other fields.But he is too picky, so Picky, He has never decided on a career. For him, nothing is good enough. For the same reason, he never found love. He also belittled his friends’ choices so much that he alienated us. He eventually became painful and lonely. At least this is my guess. I haven’t spoken to Gallagher in decades.
There is something that is too picky, especially in terms of work, love and nutrition (even the most picky diners have to eat) something). This is the lesson I learned from Gallagher. But when it comes to the answer to the big mystery, most of us are not picky enough. We choose the answer for bad reasons, for example, because our parents, pastors, or professors believe it.We think we need to believe something, But in fact we don’t. We can and should decide that no answer is good enough. We should be agnostics.
Some people confuse agnosticism (not knowing) with indifference (not caring). Take, for example, Francis Collins, a geneticist at the National Institutes of Health. He is a devout Christian. He believes that Jesus performed miracles to die for our sins and rise from the dead.In his 2006 bestseller God’s language, Collins called agnosticism “escape.” When i interviewed him, I told him that I was an agnostic and opposed “escaping”.
Collins apologized. “This is a derogation and should not be applied to serious agnostics who have considered the evidence but still haven’t found the answer,” he said. “I am reacting to the agnosticism I have seen in the scientific community. This is not derived from a careful examination of the evidence.” I checked the Christian evidence, and I found it to be unconvincing.I also don’t believe in any scientific creation of stories, such as those that portray our universe as Bubbles in the ocean “multiverse”. “
The people I admire accused me of being too skeptical.One is late Houston Smith, He called me a “faith barrier”.The other is the great expert Robert Wright, my old friend, I often argue with him about evolutionary psychology And Buddhism. Wright once asked me angrily, “Don’t you believe it? anything? “In fact, I believe that many things, such as wars, are bad and should be cancelled.
But when it comes to theories about ultimate reality, I support Voltaire. “Doubt is not a pleasant state,” Voltaire said, “but certainty is absurd.” Doubt Protect us from dogmatism, This can easily evolve into fanaticism and what William James calls “premature closing of our accounts and reality”. Next, I defend agnosticism as a position on the existence of God, the interpretation of quantum mechanics, and the theory of consciousness. When considering the so-called answers to these three riddles, we should be as critical as my old friend Gallagher.
Why do we exist? According to the major monotheistic religions, including the Catholic faith in which I grew up, the answer is that an almighty supernatural entity created us. This god loves us just as a human father loves his children, and wants us to behave in a certain way. If we do well, he will reward us. If we are not good, he will punish us. (I use the pronoun “he” because most scriptures describe God as a male.)
My main objection to this interpretation of reality is Evil questionA casual look at human history and the world today will reveal great suffering and injustice. If God loves us and is omnipotent, why is life so terrible for so many people?The standard answer to this question is that God gave us Free will; We can choose good or bad.
The late great physicist Steven Weinberg, An atheist, Who died in July, Refuting the argument about free will in his book The ultimate theoretical dreamNoting that the Nazis killed many of his relatives in the Holocaust, Weinberg asked: Do millions of Jews have to die before the Nazis can exercise their free will? This seems unfair. What about children with cancer? Should we think that cancer cells have free will?
On the other hand, life is not always hellish. We experience love, friendship, adventure and heartbreaking beauty. Does all this really come from random collisions of particles? Even Weinberg admits that life sometimes seems “more beautiful than absolutely necessary.”If the problem of evil prevents me from believing in a loving God, then Beauty problem Prevent me from becoming an atheist like Weinberg. So agnostic.
Quantum mechanics It is the most accurate and powerful theory of reality in science. It predicted countless experiments and spawned countless applications. The problem is that physicists and philosophers disagree about what it means, that is, how it views the world. Many physicists—mostly, possibly—adhere to the Copenhagen interpretation proposed by Danish physicist Niels Bohr. But this is a counter-explanation that physicists should not try to understand quantum mechanics; as physicists, they should “shut up and calculate” David Merming Once put it.
Tim Modlin I regret this situation.In his 2019 book Philosophy of Physics: Quantum Theory, He pointed out that several interpretations of quantum mechanics describe in detail how the world works.These include GRW model Proposed by Ghirardi, Rimini and Weber; this David Bohm’s guided wave theory; and Hugh Everett’s Multiple World HypothesisBut the irony is that Maudlin is very careful to point out the flaws in these explanations, which intensifies my suspicions. They all seem hopelessly clumsy and ridiculous.
Maudlin did not examine the explanation that reshaped quantum mechanics as a theory of information.For a positive view of information-based interpretation, please check Beyond the weird go through Philip Ball and The rise of information Written by Caleb Scharf, an astrobiologist. But in my opinion, the information-based view of quantum mechanics is less credible than Maudlin’s scrutinized explanation.This The concept of information is meaningless There are no conscious people to send, receive, and act on the information.
The introduction of consciousness into physics undermines its claim to objectivity. In addition, as far as we know, consciousness only appears in certain organisms that exist briefly on earth. So, if quantum mechanics is a theory of information rather than a theory of matter and energy, how does it apply to the entire universe since the Big Bang?Information-based physics theory looks like Return to the center of the earth, Suppose the universe revolves around us. Given that all interpretations of quantum mechanics are problematic, agnosticism once again makes me think this is a wise position.
Physical and mental problems
The debate about consciousness is even more intense than the debate about quantum mechanics. How does matter produce thoughts? Decades ago, consensus seemed to be forming. Daniel Dennett, In his arrogant title Consciousness explanation, Assert that consciousness clearly comes from neural processes, such as electrochemical impulses in the brain. Francis Crick and Christof Koch proposed that consciousness is produced by a network of synchronously oscillating neurons.
Gradually, this consensus collapsed because the empirical evidence of the neural theory of consciousness failed to materialize.As I pointed out in a recent book Physical and mental problems, There are all kinds of dazzling theories of consciousness. Christoph Koch Has left his weight behind Comprehensive Information Theory, It believes that consciousness may be an attribute of all matter, not just the brain. This theory has the same problems as the information-based quantum mechanics theory. Theorists such as Roger Penrose, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics last year, speculated that quantum effects are the basis of consciousness, but this theory lacks more evidence than comprehensive information theory.
Researchers cannot even agree on what form the theory of consciousness should take. Should it be a philosophical essay? Pure mathematical model?A huge algorithm, maybe based on Bayesian calculation? Should it borrow the concepts of Buddhism, such as the doctrine of no-self and no-self? all of the above? none of the above? The consensus seems to be more distant than ever. This is a good thing. We should be open to our own minds.
So, what is the difference between me and my former friend Gallagher, if any? I like to think that this is a matter of style. Gallagher scorned the choices of others. He is like one of those despicable atheists who insult believers because of their faith. I try not to become dogmatic because of my suspicion, and sympathize with people who, like Francis Collins, have found answers that work for them.In addition, I am very excited Animism, like “Little and Little” by John Wheeler And Freeman Dyson’s Principle of Maximum Diversity, Even if I can’t hug them.
I am definitely a skeptic. I suspect that we will never know whether God exists, what quantum mechanics means, and how matter generates thoughts. I suspect that these three puzzles are different aspects of a single, incomprehensible puzzle at the core of things.But one of the pleasures of agnosticism—perhaps the greatest pleasure—is that I can continue to find answers and hope The horizon is about to be revealed.
This is an opinion and analysis article; opinions expressed Author or author Not necessarily those Scientific american.
See also my podcast”Physical and mental problems“There I talked to experts, including the ones mentioned above, about God, quantum mechanics, and consciousness.