by Enza Ferreri 10/14/14
“First hint of ‘life after death’ in biggest ever scientific study”, headlines The Telegraph, going on to say: “Southampton University scientists have found evidence that awareness can continue for at least several minutes after clinical death which was previously thought impossible”.
Does this prove that there is life after death and that God exists?
Of course not, but it shows without a shadow of a doubt that there are many phenomena and events that science doesn’t explain about the nature of consciousness and of the mind in general.
Someone’s answer to that migtht be that science will one day explain everything: but that belief requires a deep faith in itself. Even though the object of that faith is science and not God, faith it is.
What is paradoxical about the way in which atheists – “unbelievers” is a misnomer, as they do believe without empirical or rational foundation in many things -, since 19th-century positivism to today’s Richard Dawkins and Stephen Hawking, have associated decline of religion with progress of science is that the advances in the latter, if anything, have demonstrated to us how many things in the universe, life and mind science doesn’t understand, most notably their origin. And there are very good reasons to predict that it never will, as they probably require other constructs, other ways of thinking and other kinds of explanantion.
The connection between the brain, a material object, and the mind, or rather how the physicality of the former can produce the non-physicality of the latter, has not become clearer the more it has been studied and researched by science, but in fact the opposite has occurred: the questions have multiplied, while the answers have diminished in proportion.
It’s perfectly true that it’s in the nature of scientific investigation that every new problem solved, every new question answered gives rise to new problems and questions, which inspired one of the greatest philosophers of science, Sir Karl Popper, to title his intellectual autobiography Unended Quest.
But there is a difference between the type of investigation in which science excels, where satisfactory theories that can survive rigorous tests are reached, and the type of investigation which displays an exponentially increasing discrepancy between problems and their solutions.
What the neo-positivists of the early 20th century, like the Vienna Circle – thinking that they were following Ludwig Wittgenstein but in fact misinterpreting him -, were saying was that questions which cannot be answered by mere logic and empiricism (hence one of their names, “logic empiricists”) should not be asked and pursued. Metaphysics and theology were nonsense. This was a way of limiting all intellectual search of knowledge to science.
This position has serious limitations. First a logical one: it is a self-contradictory position. If anything beyond the realm of science is nonsensical, what these philosophers (and their heirs today) are saying is nonsensical too, as it does not limit itself to logic and empirical evidence: they are engaging in metaphysics as well, albeit to oppose another metaphysical view.
And this takes us to its second serious limitation: if even people who have postulated boundaries for intellectual investigation cannot confine themselves to them and remain within them, that by itself is an indication that those boundaries are too narrow and unsatisfactory. And that science cannot provide all the answers that are necessary for a curious mind to be satisfied.
Even more, what if science itself, as it seems to be the case the more it expands and deepens, points to something outside itself?
Enza Ferreri is an Italian-born, London-based Philosophy graduate, author, and journalist. She has been a London correspondent for several Italian magazines and newspapers, including Panorama, L’Espresso, La Repubblica. She is in the Executive Council of the UK’s party Liberty GB. • (916 views)