Physics and Psychology

There are physicists who are reductive materialists. They believe that ultimately the world can be described from the bottom up. In particular they believe that the complex characteristics of human life, sensation, perception, memory, imagination and intention will be reducible to neurophysiology. Neurophysiology will in turn be reducible to electrophysiology, biochemistry and so on down to physics. Am I putting up a straw man? Do such physicists exist? I believe they do and that the outlook I describe is quite common in University Science Departments. It is, I suppose, a metaphysical position, an opinion about the fundamental nature of reality. Anyone who thinks hard and tries to reach a world view with some intellectual coherence will of necessity be doing metaphysics, even if not with the tenacity of Kant or Hegel. And persons who tread this path will find they have to base their position on assumptions (premises) which cannot be demonstrated. Beyond metaphysics lie faith and/or mysticism. And also perhaps despair. Who can doubt that, at times, Kafka felt despair at what he experienced as the abjectness of the human condition.

Carl Jung wrote extensively on Alchemy and his most accessible work on the subject is The Psychology of the Transference. In the book Jung finds evidence for the projection of the features of the psyche onto inanimate matter in a series of 15th century woodcuts that describe the alchemical process. I find it difficult not to be struck by the absence of any account of mind in the contemporary physicists’ descriptions of reality, although the observer did begin cropping up more and more in both Relativity and Quantum Theory in the twentieth century. However the observer was featureless, more a dial than a face.

Let me conclude this post with two quotes of Max Planck, one of the founding fathers of Quantum Theory:-

I regard consciousness as fundamental. I regard matter as derivative from consciousness. Everything that we talk about, everything that we regard as existing postulates (presupposes) consciousness. (1931) Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are part of nature, and therefore part of the mystery we are trying to resolve. (1932)

My next post will be my poem Everything which explores these issues in a different key.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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