Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science; Hieronimus Interview
Radio show host Bob Hieronimus discusses Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science (1981) with Richard Thompson, who authored the book fifteen years prior. In it, Thompson describes the soul (jivatma) as a “distinct quanta of consciousness,” and argues that logically, such a principle could not plausibly arise from matter. Thompson then philosophically illustrates a role for intelligence by utilizing a variety of examples of intricate designs found throughout within the natural world, such as sting mechanisms in flatworms, and the statocyst organ found in certain shrimp during molting.
TRANSCRIPT: Mechanistic and Nonmechanistic Science; Hieronimus Interview: 21st Century Radio – July 14, 1996 / (322)
Bob Hieronimus: Well our guest tonight is Dr. Richard L. Thompson, author of Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science: An Investigation into the Nature of Consciousness and Form, published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Their phone number is (904) 462-0466. Richard L. Thompson was born in Binghamton, New York in 1947. In 1974 he received his PhD in mathematics from Cornell University where he specialized in probability theory and statistical mechanics. Dr. Thompson has done research in quantum physics and mathematical biology at the State University of New York at Binghamton, Cambridge University in the United Kingdom, and La Jolla Institute in San Diego. Dr Thompson joined us previously to review his book Alien Identities, and we have also talked to his co-author, Michael Cremo, about their work, Hidden History of the Human Race, which we reviewed in the Hieronymus and Company Newsletter, issue no. 5.
About the book we are discussing tonight, Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science: An Investigation into the Nature of Consciousness and Form, Eugene Wigner, Nobel prize winner for physics in 1963, noted, "I like the third chapter of Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science very much. In particular, it acquainted me with some... some... with the Bhagavad-gita. I learned that the basic philosophical ideas of this one existence are virtually identical with those which quantum mechanics led me to."
And in 19... and the 1973 winner of the Nobel prize for physics, Brian Josephson said, "In Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science, Dr. Thompson makes a number of cogent arguments against the usual scientific picture of life and evolution which do not accept the higher... the existence of higher or subtler levels of organization. He also presents a clear alternative model. I think that it is an important book which would be of interest to many people."
And now, welcome back to award winning 21st Century Radio and TV News, Dr. Richard Thompson... Are you with us Dr. Thompson?
Dr. Richard Thompson: Yes
BH: Well, your book is dedicated to His Divine Grace A.C. Swami Prabhupada... oops, got that wrong... Prabhupada. Would you please tell us a little about this great soul and his contributions to planetary consciousness
RLT: Well, we refer to him as Srila Prabhupada. He is a great saintly teacher of Vaisnava religion. Basically the Vaisnava religion of India is dedicated to the worship and loving service of the Supreme Lord. The concept in India is that there is one Supreme Godhead. The many demigods which are worshiped in India are understood to be subordinate beings created by the Supreme and also acting in the service of the Supreme, somewhat analogous to the traditional idea of angels in Christianity.
So Srila Prabhupada was dedicated to teaching this philosophy and also the practical science of how one can realize one's relationship with God. Of course the name of God most commonly used in the Vaisnava religion is Krsna. Krsna means the all-attractive personality. The idea is that God is attracting all other beings, which are originally emanating from God. So in 1965, Srila Prabhupad came to the United States and began teaching this Vaisnava philosophy.
BH: Okay, excuse me, I just got a flash here which I'll have to take care of when you start to answer this next question. Sorry about that Richard. You know, in an article on the theory of evolution, the biology, John... biologist, John Maynard Smith declared, "The individual is simply a device constructed by genes to ensure the production of more genes like themselves." Now what does this perspective say about the meaning of human life?
RLT: Well yes, I believe that was Richard Dawkins. Sorry. Basically the outlook of life that has been adopted by modern biology and in general by modern science, is that life reduces to atoms. Basically life is simply a very complex chemical process and it is running according to the laws of physics and chemistry. Now this, by it's very... by its very nature eliminates the idea of purpose from life. The only substitute that you have for purpose is the Darwinian struggle of survival of the fittest. Basically the idea is that different organisms are struggling to survive and multiply, and as a result they produce different patterns of behavior. According to this concept, human behavior in all its complexity is simply another pattern that has evolved in the course of the interaction of organisms.
The quote that you mentioned refers to the idea of genes. The concept there is that as long as a gene is reproduced, that's all that counts, because then you have more of them and they can continue to reproduce. So if the gene produces a certain bi-product in the form of a body that has certain characteristics or behavioral traits, and that enables the gene to reproduce, then that's what happens. So according to this concept, there's no meaning or purpose to the whole affair. It's just a mechanistic process running by molecular interactions. Unfortunately, of course, this eliminates all ideas of religion, morality, and so forth accept in so far as you can reformulate them as part of a strategy for survival and reproduction.
BH: Well if humans believe in... that they are meaningful only insofar as they can contribute to the propagation of the machine's blueprint, what influence does this have on a civilization that lives by that dictum?
RLT: Well of course, many people have expressed concern over this and have pointed to some of the developments that have occurred within modern civilization in which violence, genocide, and so forth have risen to new heights. Of course it's been argued that people were engaged in these activities also before Darwin's theory came along. But it does appear that the philosophy of the survival of the fittest ultimately provides no basis for action in human society outside of this concept that: Well, one simply adopts a mode of behavior that will be most successful in propagation and ultimate success for those who adopt that mode.
BH: Indeed as...
RLT: Ultimately it's a concept of the... the means, then, are justified by the end, whatever it may be.
BH: Now we're gonna need to take a break,and when we come back we're going to get into the... what a mechanistic system refers to in modern physics, which, of course, is based on measurement and calculation. And then we're gonna... later we'll get into the nonmechanistic principles.
Our guest is Dr. Richard L. Thompson and we're talking about the book, Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science: An Investigation into the Nature of Consciousness and Form, published by Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. And you can order it by calling (904) 462-0466 or by writing to PO box 1920, Aluka. I'll spell that A L A C H U A. I guess it's Alachua, sorry... thank you... Florida, 32615.
Our guest is Dr. Richard L. Thompson and we're talking about the book, Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science: An Investigation into the Nature of Consciousness and Form, published by Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. You can order it by calling (904) 462-0466 or by writing to PO box 1920... Oh my goodness, how did she pronounce that again?
BH: Oh thank you, Richard. Alachua, Florida, 32615, and they're still struggling to win our first library tonight. No one has won it yet. Richard, you note that “mechanistic” refers to the theoretical system of modern physics which is based on measurement and calculation. You also note that matter is central to all phenomena and that these theories share two features. What are the two features they share?
RLT: Which theories? Excuse me.
BH: The... I'll read it again.
RLT: Modern physics and?
BH: Well modern ph... which is based on measurement and calculation: The theoretical system of mechanistic philosophy or... or... of physics. Mechanistic physics.
RLT: Yes, modern science of course, is based on, ultimately, the principles of physical science or physics. The basic procedure in physics is to identify certain elementary entities which are described in terms of numbers and mathematics, such things as electrons, protons, quarks, electrical fields, and so on. These are names given to mathematical entities. And formulae are given telling how these entities interact with one another with the passage of time. So everything is reduced to calculation based on these simple underlying entities.
Now if all cause and effect can be reduced to this kind of mechanistic system, then that leads to the question that you were raising earlier on, namely, that there basically is no higher meaning or purpose to life, to human existence, and so on. Because in fact, it's just the working out of so many different molecular interactions. So that's the mechanistic view.
BH: And of course, to state that mechanistic principles cannot support any line of reasoning about how people would behave, right?
RLT: Well you may, in principle, be able to predict how people will behave, but that would be from a mechanical point of view. It's just like with a computer: If you program the computer with some complex program, then it may be possible to say, on the basis of that program, how the computer will behave. But it is understood that ultimately the behavior of the computer is due to the interaction of the different electrical signals running through the wires and so forth. In other words, it's a mechanistic system.
BH: And so the spiritual crisis of modern society might be relieved if we could find a truly scientific system of spiritual knowledge that extends and partly supersedes the current theories of science. And you say this system of knowledge must satisfy at least four criteria. Could you summarize that for us please?
RLT: Well, there are... there are two basic points that... that should be raised right away. The subtitle of my book, Investigation into the Nature of Consciousness and Form refers, of course, to those two principles. First of all there is consciousness. Now even if you look at the whole field of academic philosophy, you'll see that many philosophers recognize that consciousness is something that cannot be reduced to physics – to the entities that make up physical systems as understood in modern physical science. And consciousness is very much related to our being as persons, because after all, if we weren't conscious, then nothing else in our personal life would be of any reality or significance. It all revolves around consciousness. So the first principle is this idea of consciousness.
The second is the whole question of biological form: How did biological form originate? By the way, biological form can be thought of in the most obvious sense of the structure of the body and it's different organs, also in the structure of the active personality and mental functions of the individual. All of these things have form which can be reduced to information, but the question is, “Where does the information come from?”
I would like to introduce here the idea that there may be a source of information in living organisms, human beings in particular, which is not limited simply to the mechanistic interaction of particles, and so forth, within the material world, but which is coming from a higher source. This would enable one to actually contemplate a significant meaning for meaning and purpose in life. This would then refer to information, guidelines, moral dictates, and so forth, coming from a higher source which, in turn, is relating to the human being as a conscious entity. So that's a brief outline of some relevant ideas there.
BH: How would you define consciousness?
RLT: Well, consciousness is always difficult to define, especially because we've become accustomed to defining things in material terms. So therefore to define consciousness using material terms, you have to say basically what it is not. Actually this is something that’s been recognized in philosophy for a long time. In Latin there's the word via negativa – negative definition of spiritual aspects of reality, in which one says that they are not material in various senses of the word “material.” In Sanskrit you also have neti neti which expresses the same concept. It means not this and not that.
But basically, to say what consciousness is – it is the fact that we have knowledge, that we have awareness. To give an example, imagine a machine which can respond to you in a reasonably intelligent way, such as a computer. You can at least perfectly well imagine that that machine is operating without consciousness. It's merely going through a series of mechanistic steps to generate the given behavior. But there is no awareness there, no experience taking place; whereas when we behave and do things, we have the actual experience or awareness that goes with the behavior. So this gives some idea of what consciousness is.
BH: Does... does consciousness die when the brain dies, in your opinion?
RLT: I would say no. In fact consciousness is not dependent on the particular structure or operation of the brain.
RLT: In our normal embodied state of existence we're conscious of the brain, so our consciousness is influenced by what is going on within the brain, but consciousness is something distinct from the brain itself.
BH: That's important. I just wanted to make sure we mentioned that early on, because, as I noted earlier, the champion of the old paradigm in this town is Johns Hopkins University which tells us that the brain is the center of consciousness and that when the brain dies, so does consciousness. And so many of our other guests... one of our most recent ones, Dr. Hal Puthoff, of course, discussed the same problem, that consciousness, he believes and research indicates, survives after death.
Now, why is it possible... I'm gonna skip that one 'cause we have about 40 questions here I'm gonna get to. In Chapter 1 you postulate a model that the consciousness of each person is due to the presence of a distinct non-physical entity called the self. Is it pronounced jivatma?
RLT: I use the term jivatma, which is from Sanskrit.
BH: Okay, and you list eight of its attributes. You don't necessarily have to go over all eight, but could you review some of them for us? ... On page 23 of your book.
RLT: Well the basic idea there is that consciousness is something distinct from matter and it comes in individual units, because certainly my consciousness is distinct from yours or from any other individual’s. There's the concept that the conscious self is in many ways like the old idea of an atom. Of course now we speak of dividing or splitting the atom, but originally the word “atom” from Greek meant something indivisible. And physicists speculate that some particles such as the electron may be indivisible.
Well the idea is that the jivatma is an elementary unit of consciousness that cannot be subdivided. It's essentially an individual entity, and there are innumerable entities of this type. Now as I've mentioned, there's the aspect of consciousness which can be referred to with terms such as perception, knowing, experience, awareness – this is the receptive side of consciousness. So the jivatma has this capacity of being able to perceive or obtain sensory information, which may be channeled to it through different material sense organs involved with the body and the brain.
But there's also an active aspect to the jivatma and that is summed up in the concept of will. We have the idea that we can act according to our will. Now of course we know that our will is in many ways conditioned by different circumstances, but nonetheless, the idea that there is some will is essential to all aspects of human society. The very idea of responsibility of action is dependent on the concept that you can act according to your will. Because if there was no such thing as wilful action, then why hold somebody responsible? He's just a machine... just acting according to physical principles.
So this leads to the question of how the jivatma could influence matter, because if you can act according to your will, well how do you do that? So the idea is that the conscious entity is able to influence the action of matter. Matter normally is thought to act according to the laws of physics. Of course the laws of physics are just like the streets of New York City. They're continually being torn up and revived... revised, excuse me, as physics advances. But according to the idea here, there will ultimately have to be some interface between the known laws of physics and the higher principles governing the conscious entity, this jivatma. And this will enable the jivatma to influence and interact with the elements making up matter. So that's...
BH: You note that the jivatmas obey higher order psychological laws involving qualities and modes of activity that are not amenable to mathematical formulation. Now in...
RLT: Yes, there's an interesting point there. Mathematics has been so successful in describing nature that many scientists have adopted the view that literally anything that exists can be fully described in mathematical terms. It's a very seductive view because it offers the hope that we can ultimately have a mathematical theory of everything, that we can write down some equation which would, in principle, enable you to calculate all phenomena that occur.
But no one has actually ever proven that everything is reducible to mathematics. We know that some things are and that's quite remarkable, but it's fully possible that there are aspects of reality that you can't reduce down to numbers and formulas. And I am proposing here that the psychological laws and principles involved with the conscious self, may be of that type. They may not necessarily be reducible to mathematics.
BH: Well, in Chapter 2 you examine the question whether it is possible for a machine to possess a conscious self that perceives itself as seer and doer, and you conclude that computers cannot possess conscious awareness without the intervention of principles of higher nature than those of modern science. Could you reason that out for us please?
RLT: Well there's a very simple line of reasoning that you can apply to computers and I think it’s... it deserves careful thought. Many different people actually have come about... come upon this in different ways. But basically the action of a computer can be reduced down to a sequence of very simple steps. Computers today are so remarkable simply because they can carry out very large numbers of steps in a short time. But the steps that they carry out are very simple.
And for example... just to give an idea... you can imagine a kind of board game in which you move pieces on the board according to certain rules. Well the action of a computer is... can be thought of as similar to this. So now imagine a very elaborate computer which has been expressed in the form of a board game in this way. Now the computer may run more slowly than computers do in our normal experience, but it will do everything that a normal computer would do. But yet, at any given moment, all that is happening is a certain simple step is being performed.
So what I would argue is that... you can see that... you would not expect there to be consciousness associated with that. If at a given moment, let us say, the computer is adding 3 + 2 and getting 5 by a mechanical counting procedure, one wouldn't associate consciousness with that. Any... at any step, the computer is doing a similar simple operation. So the stringing together of a large number of those simple operations is just a juxtaposition, one after another, of a series of actions that have nothing to do with consciousness. So therefore I would argue that the computer as a whole is not conscious.
Now if the sum total of all these millions or even billions of separate steps results in some complex behavior, my point would still be, that even if you say there is consciousness associated with that behavior, then the consciousness has to be imported from somewhere else. It's not inherently there in the computer. So to explain consciousness we have to go beyond the concepts which are involved in the... in the computer.
BH: And that, again...
RLT: That's a very brief summary.
BH: Yea, well, it's important to be brief because some really exciting material is on the horizon because we are going to get, of course, into the theory of evolution. And we need to lay a foundation in regards to mechanistic philosophy, and what we have learned so far is that mechanistic science... let's put it that way, not philosophy... mechanistic science and mechanistic theories cannot define consciousness or are they, in particular, related to consciousness at all, and that there are and have been other non-mechanistic theories proposed by other philosophers.
We're not going to review them unless we have time later on in the second hour... dealing with functionalism, identity theory, dual aspect theories, psycho-physical parallelism, and... But what we are going to move into as we start moving towards non-mechanistic theories is what 1963 Nobel prize winner for physics, Eugene Wigner, concluded; and we'll touch on that when we return. And right now we're going to take a break and award another 21st Century Radio library of prizes.
Our guest is Dr. Richard L. Thompson and we're talking about the book which you should pick up next week. It's called Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science: An Investigation into the Nature of Consciousness and Form. I wish every member on the John Hopkins University faculty would have a copy of this book and pay atten... at least read it because they are woefully behind the times. Published by Bhakti... Bhakti... Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. And you can order it by calling (904) 462-0466. We'll be right back.
Our guest is Dr. Richard L. Thompson and we're talking about the book Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science: An Investigation into the Nature of Consciousness and Form, published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. You can order it by calling (904) 462-0466. And they're still struggling to win the second library of prizes. Nobody has won it yet.
Dr. Thompson, the 1963 Nobel prize winner for physics, Eugene Wigner, concluded that, "The present laws of physics are at least incomplete without a translation into terms of mental phenomena. More likely they are inaccurate, the inaccuracy increasing with the increase in the role life plays in which the phenomena are considered." Why did he come to this conclusion and what does it mean?
RLT: Well, Eugene Wigner was following two lines of reasoning there, as he expressed in one of his articles on physics and consciousness. One line of reasoning which he regarded as more fundamental had to do with the nature of consciousness itself. And as we were discussing earlier, he also concluded by careful analysis that consciousness cannot be reduced to matter, but he observed that matter, in fact, is known to us through consciousness. So he regarded consciousness as the primary reality and matter as, at best, a secondary form of reality, or a subordinate form. That was his analysis.
The second line of reasoning that he followed had to do with the specific features of quantum mechanics. Quantum mechanics does have features which seem to assign an essential role to the conscious observer, and Eugene Wigner was presenting that idea. He was also referring to the problem in quantum physics of explaining something that's called the quantum jump, I think is the simplest word: The idea that things can suddenly change within physics in a way not predictable by any previous information that you have about the physical system. And his analysis of this phenomenon of the quantum jump lead him to conclude that physics as it stands is incomplete and that probably there will need to be a reformulation that involves consciousness. That is, he would also hold that consciousness has some active role to play in nature. And that if consciousness is disregarded, then one will not have a full or complete understanding of what is happening within nature.
BH: Well, I think he's right on the mark there. Of course I'm not very biased in this matter. In Chapter 3, you have a dialogue on consciousness and the quantum which deals with the question of whether or not modern physics can provide an adequate description of conscious life. The characters are fictitious but you base them on views expounded by various philosophers and scientists. We're going to bypass that interesting... I found it very interesting, Chapter 3.
But moving on to philosopher Karl Popper. He reviews the mind-body problem in your Chapter 4. Popper proposes the theory of emergent evolution. What is emergent evolution and how is it different from the standard neo-Darwinian theory of evolution?
RLT: Well the concept of emergent evolution basically is that qualitatively new features can come into being as a result of an evolutionary process. Basically that is a... an idea which I criticize in that section. But the concept is, just to give you an example: Let us say you put together sodium and chlorine and you wind up with saltiness. And you could say, well the saltiness is something qualitatively different from what existed before. It's not there in the sodium separately or the chlorine. This is one argument that would be made.
However, in that particular case I would say that you have to have a pre-existing conscious entity to perceive the saltiness. In other words, the idea of an emergent property there is really not quite sufficient to tell us what is going on. We have to ask, “Well, how does the conscious awareness of this saltiness come about?” And that requires some kind of pre-existing conscious entity. That's basically what I would argue there.
BH: Well, I am amazed that we have stumped our listeners for the first time in months. No one knows who was the person that talked about the eight different types of alien beings. And that is amazing because I thought that was a fascinating discussion.
Dr. Thompson, you go on to review information theory and conclude that the laws of nature as understood by modern science are insufficient to account for the origin of life. Now we only have less than about a minute to touch on this now, and then, when we come back, we're going to talk about evolution... the standard argument that evolution will occur... will occur given long enough time spans, and you say that is false. And that was very fascinating... that particular area.
But concerning modern science, what’s... what are the laws of nature as we understand them by modern science that are insufficient to account for the origin of life?
RLT: Well basically... just to very briefly sum up the information theory argument: one main feature of the laws of physics, which physicists take very seriously, is that these laws are ultimately very simple.
BH: Unfortunately they're so simple that we're not going to have time to touch on them. We'll have to perhaps follow up on that when we do return next hour. Our guest is Richard Thompson. The book is Mechanistic ... Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science. Phone number... well we'll give you that next hour.
Now let's return to our guest Dr. Richard Thompson and our discussion of Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science: An Investigation into the Nature of Consciousness and Form, published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. You can order this book by calling (904) 462-0466. And indeed, your homework for tonight and next week is to get a copy of this book.
Dr. Thompson, you reason that the standard argument that evolution will occur given long enough time spans is false. Could you review this conclusion for us please?
RLT: Well basically the time span that would be required for the evolutionary process to produce complex forms of living organisms, according to the standard model, is much longer than the time span allotted for the existence of the universe. Basically what you find is that complex combinations have to come together. And the very simplest illustration of this would be misleading because it's too simple, but at least it gives sort of the idea.
You can imagine that if you poured some alphabet soup on a... on the floor and hoped that it would spell out, let's say, the first few lines of one of Shakespeare's plays, that you'd have to do that a certain number of times to get the first word right. But then, for every time you did it and you got the first word right, you'd have to do it quite a number of times to get the second word right. And for each time you got the first two words right, you'd still have to do it many times to get the third word right, and so forth. And what it amounts to is you can easily see that the amount of time required would be not millions of years or billions of years, but it would be 10 followed by some quite large number of zeroes. In other words, a time span beyond anything that we think of in terms of... of the existence of the universe.
BH: In other words, I think you said... is it 150,000 zeroes?
BH: Is that correct?
RLT: Yes, something of this nature. The actual...
BH: That is extraordinary
RLT: ... argument requires a mathematical theory called Information Theory. But this... the very brief summary that I gave gives some of the idea behind it.
BH: Indeed it does. So it goes beyond quadrillions and septillions etc etc. If our universe is only 15 billion years old, which I don't necessarily think it is... Of course, a number of people we've had on in the past say that it's not quite possible that it's just 15 billion years old, it must be at least 30... some take it into the trillions of years. Now, but that's a drop in the bucket in comparison to...
BH: Ah, what is that number... a hundred... 10 to 150,000 zeroes.
RLT: Yeah, you have to count the zeroes rather than just giving the number.
BH: Yeah... yeah, because there is no such number. Now... so there's no reason to believe that natural selection would possess the discriminating power needed to guide the development of a world of plants and animals from an inanimate primeval slime. In a system governed by simple natural laws, no process is sufficient to do this whether it be natural selection or any other imagined process of evolutionary development.
A number of evolutionists... because there has been a great deal of dis... what would you call it? ... controversy... it's a tough word isn't it? Yeah... extreme controversy amongst evolutionists as to what are the methods of trying to determine how evolution worked. Stephen J Gould basically proposed chance and randomness as to how evolution proceeded. Could you elaborate on that?
RLT: Well you see, there are two factors that go into the standard neo-Darwinian theory of evolution. One of them is chance and the other is natural selection or survival of the fittest. But in order for natural selection to have something to work on, the chance element has to create something. But this is a problem.
If you have, let's say, two organisms, and one is a little... has... let's say two kinds of birds, and one has stronger wings than the other. You can imagine that when they compete within nature, the one with the stronger wings may be able to fly more quickly to get food and so forth. And so that would be the one that reproduces more rapidly, and in due course of time, that will be the only one that remains through the process of natural selection.
But the question is: “Well, how do you get the wings?” Now Stephen J Gould has made the point that basically all these complex features of living organisms, to a very large extent, are products of chance. And furthermore, natural selection is often overwhelmed by the effect of natural catastrophes that happen to wipe out certain creatures whether they're fit or not while sparing others, and so on. So he would give a very large role to chance. Actually, if you analyze the theory of evolution carefully, you can see that chance is the key element. And the problem there is that chance really cannot produce anything very effectively, as you can see by pouring out your box of alphabet soup on the floor, and seeing what it gives you.
BH: Well, I have made a gross error here tonight and I have to correct it here immediately. And that is this: Our engineer tonight is John Errs and not Robin London Dean. And I certainly wanted to get to that point because we don't want to be inaccurate on that. So in the... on the other... you believe the concept of absolute chance is fundamental... fundamentally fallacious. Correct?
BH: And again you have the same problem of extraordinary... extraordinary amount of time that you... to do the kind of things in evolution that... that evolution proposes... that have occurred within 15 billion years.
Now, I'm going to bypass the area dealing with intuition and hopefully we get back... can get back to that later on, because I want to get right to the point of the more recent controversies in the field of evolution that have caused great disagreements among evolution... evolutionists, such as: No fossil evidence of gradual change. Could you review this scenario for us please?
RLT: Well, this indeed is a controversial topic. But if you look at the fossil record, what you tend to find is very large gaps between different basic forms of living species. This has always been a problem within the... the whole science of paleontology, the study of fossils. In fact, scientists such as, again, Stephen J Gould, have proposed what they called punctuated equilibrium, which basically says that evolution proceeds through long periods of stasis – that is where things stay the same – and then very suddenly there will be a change to a different form. And this change will be so quick that it will tend to not be preserved in the geological record. But you can see, this is basically a way of explaining why it is that we have these gaps in the fossil record. Essentially the fossil record is not a very good support for the theory of evolution, which would seem to require very large numbers of intermediate forms linking different types of organisms.
BH: In other words, that there is... fossil evidence is lacking for the idea of gradual change. It's just not on the record, is that correct?
RLT: Yes. Of course scientists will try to point to intermediates in different areas, but basically what is most prominently apparent in the fossil record is the absence of intermediates. This has always been a very noteworthy feature of the fossil record.
BH: Now of course, what is also depressing to me is that when certain evidence exists, it is sometimes suppressed, and ignored. On page... especially 192, you give some interesting examples of that, and if we had time, we'd touch on that, but we're not going to because I want to get to the enigma of biological forms which I think... the examples that you have here are extraordinary. For someone as ignorant as I am about this particular area, I found this particularly interesting... such as... Could you explain to us the flatworm or the micro... I might mispronounce that... microstamin.
BH: Microstomum, yeah. This is very fascinating.
RLT: Well, that's an interesting example. The story briefly is that there's this flatworm that can eat hydras. Now hydras have stinging cells. They're kind of like jellyfish. The flatworm can eat the hydra and amazingly enough, it digests all of the hydra except for the sting cells which are then carried through the flatworm and positioned on its back with the stings pointing upwards so that the hydra [flatworm] then uses those sting cells to protect itself and sting other organisms that might attack it.
Well the interesting thing is that this process requires several steps, each one of which has to be functional in order for the whole process to work. First of all the hydra has to be able to eat the... I mean the flatworm has to be able to eat the hydras without getting stung. If it does get stung, the hydra will kill the flatworm, but the flatworm has a way of eating it without being stung; then of digesting everything but the sting cells – that's another step that has to be carried out; then of carrying the sting cells through it's back. If the... the sting cells are carried by another special kind of cell within the flatworm. That step is required. Then finally they have to be positioned with the stings facing outward. You can imagine what would happen if the stings were facing into the body of the flatworm, and it stung itself when it discharged them.
Then finally it needs a trigger mechanism so that it can then use the sting cells. So that's a very brief summary. All of these steps are necessary for the whole thing to be of any value for the survival of the flatworm. And this gets us back to the survival of the fittest. Once the whole process takes place, then that's of value to the flatworm because it enables it to protect itself. But all of the steps have to be there. Now how would evolution produce all the steps at once? Well, you'd have to say, “Well, by chance.” But what is the probability of that? Once again it's like throwing down the alphabet soup and getting the first word of a sentence correct, getting also the second word and the third word and so forth. This is very improbable. So that's basically the point of that example.
BH: The other examples that you give, to me, are just as fascinating that... as the statocyst shrimp... or statocyst shrimp?
RLT: Oh, the statocyst of a... of a kind of shrimp?
RLT: Yes, well, there it's interesting. The shrimp has a little ball within it's head lined with sensitive cells. And if a grain of sand is put inside this ball, then the sand grain, of course, falls down touching the cells at the bottom. And that tells... helps the flatworm [shrimp] know which way is down. Because depending on how the flatworm [shrimp] is orientated, that determines where the sand grain will hit the inside of this sphere lined with sensitive cells. So that works if you have the ball lined with sensitive cells and the grain of sand is placed within it.
Now oddly enough that is done by the flat... by the... excuse me, the shrimp itself every time it molts, because when it molts, it gets a new little statocyst. And it picks up a grain of sand with its claw and places it in a little hole so that it goes into the... the ball. But the point is, if the grain of sand isn't put in the ball, it's of no use for telling the shrimp which way is down. The behavior of picking up the grain of sand and putting it in is of no use unless the ball is there lined with sensitive cells. So you have two fairly complex things; namely the behavior and the statocyst itself, but unless they're both there, the whole thing is useless. So again, it's the same kind of example.
BH: So what we're basically saying... and you give other examples of the E. coli bacterium and the sea slug, etc. What we're basically saying or what you're basically saying is that: In order for evolution to develop by survival of the fittest and by chance or whatever theory you got there, it just takes too darn long a time for these beings, these biological forms, to do what they presently do. And we don't have that kind of time to account for it. Am I... Is it... Am I correct in saying that, Richard?
RLT: Yes. You require chance events that are extremely improbable.
BH: Extremely improbable. Let's put a...
RLT: Extremely improbable means it's not going to just happen once in a million years if you keep trying many times every second, let's say. Or once in a billion. But it would be once in 10 to some very large number. In other words, one followed by many many zeroes.
BH: Many many zeroes is right. Now our... we're gonna take another break. So we're moving towards then... if it's not happening by chance, if we haven't evolved or the origins of life have not evolved by chance, then I think, perhaps, the answer may lay in some type of intelligence rather than chance. And that's where we're gonna move when we return. Because you note that the concept of regulatory genes can be used as the starting point of a non-evolutionary theory of the origin of species. And then we're going to move into that theory in the time that we have remaining. I find this really fascinating, friends.
Our guest is Dr Richard L Thompson and we're talking about the book, Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science: An Investigation into the Nature of Consciousness and Form, published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. You can get a copy by calling (904) 462-0466. What does this book cost? Richard?
RLT: Excuse me?
BH: What does the book cost?
RLT: This costs... let’s see. I forget the exact...
BH: You check on that and let us know because I've been looking all over the cover and I can't find the price on the cover so... so... it's become the great mystery of the universe here, friends. We'll be back after we award another library of prizes and find out a little bit about conscious evolution, or conscious origins.
Well there's gonna be a lot more flooding than that in years to come friends so you better put your ark together. Well, our guest is Dr. Richard Thompson and we're talking about the book, Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science: An Investigation into the Nature of Consciousness and Form, published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. And that book has not been won yet. Are we going to stump our listeners two times in a row? That hasn't happened in a couple of years.
Well Dr. Thompson, let’s see. Your aim is to show that evidence commonly cited as proof of the theory of evolution can often be explained just as convincingly in non-evolutionary terms. You hypothesize that living organisms have been designed by an intelligent creator. Your theme has been that such information can only be obtained by a transcendental process that takes advantage of the higher sensory and cognitive capacities of the conscious knowl... self... self that is. Am I correct on my comments in this conclusion and where it might lead?
RLT: Yes, basically as we were saying in the previous discussion, the theory of evolution has to account for the origin of complex biological form. And right now that really comes down to chance, but it really cannot happen by chance given the amount of time that is available. But if you have some higher source of information, then that could account for the origin of the different biological forms. So the idea is that the different structures that you find in living organisms can be explained by intelligent design, but they cannot be so readily explained by chance and natural selection. So therefore the idea is to introduce a theory of intelligent design. But of course that implies that the designer must be outside the system, because we don't find the intelligent designer within the system of material nature. It can be argued though, that you see many evidences of design within the biological world, however.
BH: Indeed you suggest that... or you've discussed the negative theological argument. What is the negative theological argument and how do you answer it?
RLT: Oh well, there are many attempts to actually argue in favor of evolution by resorting to theology in an indirect way. What I refer to as the negative theological argument would be to basically point out that in nature there's a great deal of suffering – there are many defective forms and organs and so on and so forth. If you had a Creator who was all good, all knowing, and all powerful, then how could such a Creator do such things? That means that we should rule out the Creator, and therefore, that gives support to the theory of evolution. You could call this a negative theological argument in favor of evolution. It is curious to see how often such attempts to bring in theology in support of a scientific theory are to be... to be found in the writings of different scientists.
But basically, the... the argument doesn't really... doesn't really hold up, and one still is left with the question of how to explain the origin of these different life forms. Also, another point I should make is that the argument from evil for the nonexistence of God is a basic question that comes up within the framework of theology, and can be best dealt with there. But that gets you into many questions concerning the basic nature and purpose of the material world.
BH: You suggest that a genuine understanding of life's origins can be reached only through a valid spiritual science. And that the answer is not to deny the existence of such a Being and to seek explanations solely in familiar physical principles. In Chapter 9, you review the process of bhakti-yoga and how it can lead to knowledge of our origins. Tell us about this process, bhakti-yoga.
RLT: Yes, well, this is related to this question on the negative theological argument and why it doesn't hold up. You see the problem there is that one is dealing with different domains of discourse here. Ultimately the argument from evil, as I mentioned... the discussion of that comes into the whole topic of theology and the whole philosophy of the spiritual aspects of existence. So one can use that, so to speak, out of context to support a theory of evolution by arguing, “Well God wouldn't do this if God was as we very crudely consider that He should be.” But actually, this whole line of reasoning is not relevant unless you have some higher spiritual knowledge concerning God and the whole purpose of the material creation.
So this brings us to this topic of bhakti-yoga. Bhakti basically is the science of devotional service to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. And it's a very deep subject. There are many aspects to it. But the basic principle, one could say, or one important principle, is that the living entity, the conscious living being, by nature is a... is related to the Supreme Consciousness. The idea is that there's a Supreme original consciousness, and there are the individual conscious entities that ultimately emanated from that original Consciousness. Now the basic concept is that these conscious entities in the material world have basically become separated from their original spiritual source. So they're functioning within the material world in a state of consciousness which you might say is characterized by alienation in relation to ... to God. That would be the... the basic idea.
So the... in addition to this, there's the concept that the purpose of the creation of the material world is to provide a domain of action in which conscious entities that have lost their relationship with God, can gradually regain that while engaging in active experience of life. You could say, in one sense, that the material universe is like a school in which, through various experiences, the conscious entity can be gradually elevated in consciousness, and ultimately attain to awareness of its original spiritual state. That's the basic conception.
Now you can see how this gradually approaches this whole question of the argument from evil. Because their question is, “Well, why is there suffering in the material world? Shouldn't this be the best of all possible worlds?” Well, the basic concept there in the whole system of bhakti-yoga is that actually this material world is not the ideal situation, nor was it ever intended to be the ideal situation for the living entity. The actual ideal situation is within an eternally existing spiritual realm of existence. However, for the living beings within the material world, it is necessary to go through a process of elevation of consciousness, and that involves activities within the framework of the imperfect material creation.
So the material creation is imperfect, being as it's a sort of school for the education of, you might say, wayward souls who've lost their connection with the Supreme. But, at the same time, the material creation has to be very carefully designed. It's not simply a chaos or a product of chance. But all the different biological forms and structures within the material world are essential parts of a very broad plan which ultimately involves the elevation of consciousness of the individual living beings.
BH: So in order to become conscious of a plan, a greater plan, one needs to elevate consciousness, and if you insist that consciousness does not exist as... as mechanistic sciences teach and which, basically, here in the State of Maryland, we have it as a dictum that consciousness ceases when the brain dies and consciousness is just the random movement of molecules which ceases to exist after death. Then the plan, if there is one, never becomes conscious, if you cease to work or move towards the elevation of consciousness. And I think the... what I found fascinating was the example that you gave that others would say... especially mechanistic scientists would say, “Well this is mighty unfair, because... because then only a select few or a few who decide to go on this path (one path being, of course, bhakti-yoga, union with the Supreme) then it's unfair that these individuals can partake in that.”
Of course you make the point that science, especially in the area of the... of the technologies, that many scientists have, and random generators and things of that nature, most of us don't have access to either. I think it's an important point from the standpoint that... In order for evolution to have taken place... or let’s say... well, I don't even want to use the term... Origins of life then come from a conscious creative plan by a Supreme Consciousness rather than through evolution and by chance. Would you agree with that?
RLT: Yes, that is the idea. And you're mentioning this idea that only a few people, let us say, would have access to, let us say, a process for attaining higher consciousness and so on. But of course the basic concept is that the ultimate purpose of the material world is to provide experiences so that one can gradually elevate one's consciousness. So these experiences, of course, take place on many different levels and in many different situations.
But another factor there is, that at the death of the body, one's personal existence is not, in fact, extinguished, but continues. So according to this concept, the accumulated experience that one has in different life situations continues to be there for the conscious living being. In one sense there is a process of evolution, but it's an evolution of consciousness, not simply a mechanistic process of evolution of the bodily forms.
BH: Indeed, well we're out of time for this segment. The book is Mechanistic and Non-Mechanistic Science: An Investigation into the Nature of Consciousness and Form, published by the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. You can order it by calling (904) 462-0466. Thank you for joining us Dr. Richard Thompson. I greatly appreciated it and learned a great deal.
RLT: Well thank you.
BH: When we return, we'll be joined by J. W. McGuiness to review the upcoming, July 18th-21st, 1996 International Tesla Symposium.