The Nobel Laureate and physicist Stephen Hawking for some years now, according to his own estimation, has been approaching to A Theory of Everything.
This would be very satisfying one would think. Let me tell you a story.
I went down to Currys PC World our local chain branch for expensive bits and pieces for computers; hardware; software; and I found there The Ideal Form of PC Tower; branded ‘Platonic’.
It was a home DIY PC Tower Kit; having in a large cardboard box the tower case itself; a hard drive; a motherboard; a DVD rewrite drive; RAM; Graphics Card; Power Supply; a Chipcard; and the various leads and fittings.
I bought it and took it home and in the course of a few days I had it built and up and running. The Ideal Form of PC Tower up and running!! Fantastic.
A guy with a big white beard and a halo above his head knocked at my door next day and asked me to show it to him, this PC Tower of PC Towers; the One upon which all other PC Towers depend for their existence and functioning.
I was very flattered and invited him in; and then I showed my PC Tower off to him (perhaps a bit like King Hezekiah showed off his treasures and storerooms of valuables to visiting royalty?)
The old guy with the beard and halo asked me how it worked; was there a population of little men and women inside this box of tricks at work and making it display and do internet and word processing and so on?
I said to him; well, I just put it together from an assortment of bits that came with the DIY kit I bought at PC World; I don’t really know anything about the way the thing actually does what it does; I know that electricity goes in the back and that a signal comes from my provider and that I put all the bits together, and hey presto! it worked; but more than that and I’m stumped.
The old guy didn’t press things any further; left me alone, mercifully; I felt a bit of a fool, but he didn’t rub my nose in it. He left and seemed quite impressed with what I had shown him; even a little gratified.
Now I want you to look down the telescope of The Theory of Everything from the other end.
I read a book about Mind and Matter. Strange book. The guy was claiming that human intelligence and consciousness is the high end of a spectrum of chemical reactions whose lower end can be witnessed in primordial water-based swamps containing various elements like carbon, nitrogen, potassium and so on; swamps which have a light source bearing down on them, such as the sun. This lower end of his spectrum was able ‘by itself’ to increase the numbers and complexities of types of molecule, so as for these complex molecule types to approach to the building blocks of life.
Let’s suppose this is a truth; that all life, intelligence and consciousness originate, originated in this way.
(It is a proposition which is not able to be empirically shown, certainly not proved, since any person supposing her/himself to have shown this empirically to be so, would at the least have had to access all history, in all places, at all times, all events and all their details; their chemical basis as well as their human aspects, and to show the connections between the two; so as to draw a reasonably continuous line from the original primordial swamp up to today.
As the wits of today like to say: Too much information. And so this ‘theory’ is merely a hypothesis and as such it is a metaphysical structure; and a metaphysical structure is taboo, a persona non grata, with such Logical-Positivist believers as is this guy.)
Yet let’s assume that he’s right; and everything connects with everything and that everything connected is co-dependent on itself and on its minutiae and its details, in order for it to be existent in the way that it manifests to us as being in existence.
Here then, we are at the opposite end of Stephen Hawking’s telescope; and looking from the bottom upwards instead of from the heights downwards. Yet we have pretty much the same view in actuality. We have in effect the infinite numbers of monkeys banging at typewriters and somehow together they scribble off, over infinite time, The Complete Works of Shakespeare.
The guy claims for this model simplicity, explanatory power, elegance and breadth of application. I won’t disagree with the simplicity.
As for explanatory power, just as with Hawking’s Theory of Everything, we are left with nothing other than, at bottom; Things are as they are because they are what they are. Two ‘theories’ of Everything which are de facto utterly useless, other than to confirm that we are here because we are here; and also perhaps that ‘Lloyd George knew my Father’?
The guy is unable to see or to think in any other forms of evidence than scientific evidence. He measures every aspect of life, from a kid’s birthday party to an old lady’s six Pekinese, solely and wholly as ‘chemical events’. They have no other aspects or explanations other than them being complex chemical reactions in semi-closed systems tending ever towards greater complexity.
Some people are colour blind; some people are tone deaf; I guess some people miss out on other things too?
He assumes (wrongly, and in his own terms of measurement, wrongly) that because say a table is made of billiards of atoms flying here and there; that for some reason this aspect of the table as being atomic activities and structures; these are those which are ‘real’; as opposed to the table being used to serve meals on being ‘less real’ or even ‘unreal’.
How one such manifestation of ‘table’ is ‘uber-real’ when compared to another, and on what such a judgement might be based, is imponderable.
The guy ends up his book by heralding in imagination a new science of consciousness and intelligence whereby neuroscientists will have worked out a ‘full science’ of how the brain functions chemically so as for it to produce its meta-type phenomena such as feelings volitions, motor movements, and so on, in a person. With this new science these intrepid will be in possession of the tools and the means to use then so as to be able to erase those old common or garden (I call them instinctual or else human nature) hard wirings of people; and to replace this old stuff with newly habituated frameworks which are I presume, more rational, less destructive, and globally desirable and beneficial.
Frankenstein. The scientist as God. Agamemnon on his arrival home to Clytemnestra. Napoleon before Moscow. Stephen Hawking and his Theory of Everything.
Yet by his own measure how is neuro-research able to obtain anywhere near a ‘full’ science of neuropsychology? To have a full access to any discrete area of knowledge or discipline in this guy’s world one has to have a handle on everything; and I mean everything in the universe, material, immaterial, whatever. Otherwise, one has not got hold of every connection and interdependence of everything on everything else; and thus one’s ‘full’ science remains necessarily incomplete.
What in fact in reality (whatever this is) will happen will be that men and women will begin treating others (patients?) and using half-knowledge – even out of kindness and generosity – tinkering with people’s minds – maybe in good will even – but yet DDT, Thalidomide; CFCs; Coal fired power; GM crops; irrigations in China and the USSR; in Egypt and in Turkey; crop growing in Arizona; antibiotic immunities; and a thousand other good-will amenities provided to us by science; all these were and are still today anathema, and grossly inimical to the welfare of the planet, its flora, fauna, and humanity.
And from such a great presumption it shall bear its fruit and bring into existence a great deal more distress than otherwise would have been; and simply because that Tower in Babel continues as a work in progress inside too many infatuated heads.
Heads who believe they know better; know best; and for whom the lessons of humility to be had from their own disciplines’ histories have not been learned.