Many of us take for granted that one day science will “have it all figured out”. Recent advances in artificial intelligence and other technologies make us feel like we’re well on our way to that presumed plateau, but are we? The truth is that science still can’t even begin to explain two things fundamental to our ability to even ponder these questions, i.e.: consciousness, and life itself. Science does a good job of explaining the mechanistic processes behind these two things, but is nowhere near being able to, for instance, fully explain how consciousness works, nor able to give life to an inanimate object. These four scientists tackle questions related to these problems in various ways, and along the way generate a lot of backlash and skepticism. Are they crazy? Maybe a little. But Einstein probably was too.
At the core of Robert Lanza’s work you’ll find a lot of references to quantum phenomena, which gives skeptics some easy footing to frame their takedowns. But that same framework can put those critics on shaky ground; in an era when top physicists argue about superstrings we’ll never be able to see or measure, how crazy is it to demand we understand consciousness at least a little bit (because we don’t!) as part of our understanding of the universe?
|Lanza’s book Biocentrism:How Life and Consciousness are the Keys to Understanding the Universe asserts that current scientifically reductionist theories of the physical world will remain inadequate until they fully account for life and consciousness.
It’s easy to find critiques of Thomas Nagel’s assertions about science, but he has the handy fallback that he’s actually a philosopher. That doesn’t make his bold assertions about how the “materialist neo-Darwinian conception of nature is almost certainly false” any less abrasive to those who cling to the “Physic-chemical reductionism” he rails against. He gets a little less of a beating in this Scientific American piece.
|In his book Mind and Cosmos, Nagel argues that the materialist version of evolutionary biology is unable to account for the existence of mind and consciousness, and therefore is – at best – incomplete.
The work of Jim Al-Khalili is probably the least controversial of these four scientists, and probably because he approaches the concept of consciousness in a manner directly opposite Robert Lanza, i.e.: with considerable restraint. His focus on quantum theory and speculations about bird migration still make him a little unpalateable to some in the mainstream science community.
|Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology observes that we’re still missing some fundamental explanations about the phenomena of life itself, and explores how quantum mechanics might provide some of the answers
Rupert Sheldrake is perhaps the most controversial of the four scientists mentioned here, probably because he has a PhD in Biochemistry from Cambridge, but is willing to talk seriously about psychic dogs and “morphic fields”. He has been banned from TED, and it’s easy to find to find skeptical takedowns, but this Scientific American piece takes a friendlier look at his work .
|Should science be a fundamentalist belief system? Or should it be based on open-minded inquiry into the unknown? This line of questioning is the basis of Sheldrake’s book Science Set Free: 10 Paths to New Discovery